R o c» u c r I o i\r
Digitized by the Internet Archive
DEBT HEADS collective editorial by green fuchsia
LETTERS our readers fight hack
MAGGIE' S FARM pw goes to [green] summer camp
ESPRIT DE CORPSE taJe of toil and analysis by d. herman
YOU'VE GOT TO GIVE ME CREDIT one man's solution to the credit problem by gory richardson
CREDIT CARD GULAG credit cards 8r collections in america by harold tuttle
OUR AMERICAN ECONOMIC SYSTEM poem by bruce jacobson
POSING AN PRETENDING things to order
BIG SHOPPING analysis by dennis liayes
S. F.A.I. MEMO a document slid under our door
BORN AGAIN fiction by tamim ansary
POETRY hendricJtson and schaffer
MOM fiction by bob sJaymalter
CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT tale of toil by alien krebs
A FAMILY BUSINESS fiction by susan gee rumsey
READERS' DEMOGRAPHIC POLL & SURVEY
COLLECTIVE: Primitivo Morales, Trixie T-Square,
Dennis Hayes, Emily Post-It, Green Fuchsia,
Jeff Goldthorpe, Shelley Fern Diamond, Ana
Logue, Frog, Sarkis Manouchian, Moammar
Crawdaddy, Pauline Polymorph
CONTRIBUTORS: D.S. Black, Adam B., Tom H.,
JRS, Smurfs In Hell, MarsMensch, Joe Schwind,
Typesetting Etc., Mark Leger, Marcellus Hall,
Ken Brown, Ace Backwords, S.W.^ LB. Nelson,
YoYo McLeod, Ann-Marie Hendrickson,
Barbara Schaffer, Brad Holland, Mark Beebe
Processed World is a project of the Bay Area
Center for Art and Technology, a California
non-profit organization. For information contact:
B.A.C.A.T.. 37 Clementina St., San Francisco,
CA, 94105 (415J 495-6823. Processed World is
indexed in the Alternative Press Index. All
articles, stories and graphics reflect the view
and fantiasies of the author, and not necessarily
those of other contributors, PW, or B.A.C.A.T.
Front and Back Covers by Ramone Munoz
The great eighties credit card binge:
In this issue, Gary Richardson embrac-
es it, Harold Tuttle curses it, Dennis
Hayes analyzes it, and Mir Tamin
Ansary sexualizes it. What are these
guys talking about, anyway?
Of course, everyone knows by now
that the corporations, the government
and private individuals have all taken on
enormous amounts of debt during the
Reagan years. It has become a cliche to
say that we've mortgaged our future to
the hilt. All this debt isn't bad for
everyone, however. The truly advan-
taged few whose income growth exceeds
the interest rate on their loans are
rewarded on their indebtedness. The
continued increase in their wealth will
make it easy to pay off past obligations.
For the economy as a whole, that's quite
a gamble, particularly since most of the
debt is incurred for nonproductive pur-
chases like consumer goods and arma-
ments. Wall St. certainly isn't betting on
future growth. Stock prices are so low
that takeover artists can make money by
going massively into hock to buy out a
company's shares. They hope to recoup
by immediately selling off chunks of
their new property to other empire
Maybe we should view the mounting
debt as a national game of hot potato.
Prices are high, wages are low, and
everybody wants to be rich. We can
enjoy the illusion of wealth by robbing
from the capital investment fund, pay-
ing for our toys by borrowing from each
other. Let the devil worry about those
who end up stuck with the bills. Gary
Richardson reflects that attitude, all
right, in his You've Got to Give Me
Credit. Richardson's main source of
income is his credit card pyramid, in
which newly acquired cards are used to
pay off old ones. Richardson views
credit as a kind of "magic," as if wealth
falls from the sky.
Harold Tuttle, in The Credit Card
Gulag, counters this credit card mysti-
cism with a dose of bureaucratic logic.
Tuttle, who is trapped in the collections
PHOTO BY D.S. BLACK
department of a large bank's credit card
operations, speaks from the belly of the
beast. Everyday, he sees people dragged
under the wheels of the system when
their debt gets out of control. Richard-
son cannot count on simply ignoring
his liabilities if things go wrong,
In Big Shopping, Dennis Hayes
leaves Richardson and Tuttle to argue
over the credit cards themselves and
examines the shopping frenzy the cards
support. Quoting the Wall Street Journal,
Hayes notes that shopping has become
"arguably the nation's favorite pastime
next to television watching." Shoppers,
he says, are attempting through con-
sumption to fulfill their fantasies and
fend off their insecurities in an unstable,
lonely world. Marketing strategists have
successfully integrated image and pro-
duct to encourage consumption for its
Speaking of fantasies, Tamin Ansary
takes Hayes one step further in Born
Again. He constructs a sexual fantasy
involving actual credit cards. What does
this story mean, anyway? Readers will
just have to divine the meaning of credit
card sex for themselves.
Beneath Ansary's far-out conflation of
sexuality and credit card use lies a
central question: How do pressures
around sexual identity and sexual
achievement help spawn shopping ma-
nia? Remember, there are two genders
out there, with different relations to
credit card consumerism. Gender-based
buying patterns arise because men and
women hope that purchasing the right
products will give them a greater mas-
culine or feminine allure. This is a hope
constantly exploited by Madison Ave-
nue to induce still more consumption.
Of course, achieving a respected sexual
identity is not an end in itself. It is
supposed to enhance one's social status
and lead to greater sexual gratification.
But if sexuality is key to creating
compulsive consumption, it is also key
to its dissolution. In opposition to the
PROCESSED WORLD 23
yuppie ideal, let me introduce the zippie
lifestyle — led by those with 2ero mcome
and /Plenty of sex.
Forget Shopping, Let Your Fingers
Do the Walking I've been rich, and I've
been poor, and rich is better, but only
marginally so, believe me. Making
$100,000 a year did not make my family
five times happier than making $20,000
did. We weren't even 50 times happier.
Spending all the money was a tedious,
time-consuming process that diverted
our attention from the struggle to get
real satisfaction out of life. The frustra-
tions of it all killed my father.
Now I'm a creditless deviant in a
culture that increasingly revolves
around credit cards. My applications for
those cards are uniformly turned down
for lack of a credit history. (That
paragon of progressivism. Working As-
sets, suggested that I go downtown, get
a department store card, make some
purchases, and reapply in a year. So
much for socially responsible fmanciail
counseling.) Yet I manage to survive
and sometimes flourish in this appa-
rently deprived condition.
That's where the zippie concept comes
in. My stereo's twenty years old, but I
don't care. A little intimate conversation
that leads to hugging is a lot more fun
than a new stereo. And I'd trade a
Mercedes for a night of cuddling and
fucking any day. The way I figure it, the
world is rich enough: People who feel
socially- sexually fulfilled will always find
enough to eat, but those who lead empty
lives will always be hungry.
If they noticed, the media might
dismiss zippie types like me as "stuck in
the sixties." The late sixties were an
exciting time — I'd rather be stuck there
than in a checkout line. Twenty years
ago, people started seeing sex as more
than some fun thing for your off hours,
an empty pleasure that could be en-
hanced by purchasing the proper pack-
aging. Sexuality was instead considered
central to building the networks of
committed relationships that would
form the basis of revolutionary commu-
nity, in which a broad sense of solidarity
and compassion would cut through
capitalism's alienated materialist values.
Realizing humanity's erotic potential,
then, would be prerequisite to human
So the revolutionaries failed in the
seventies, brought down by their own
capitalist roots as much as anything. At
least they had some good times with
their friends. In the eighties, the Reaga-
nite message is to fear other people and
avoid unconventional relationships.
Trusting "strangers," really anyone but
the traditional authority figures, will get
you hurt. With the advent of AIDS, the
line has become "sex is death." It's safe
to go out to buy something, but not to
go out in search of love.
AIDS is the product of a very partic-
ular set of environmental coincidences
that facilitate the disease's transmission.
In the early eighties, gays were hit by
rapidly spreading waves of infection as
individuals sexually passed the AIDS-
causing virus onto others. Such waves
did not occur among straights and
lesbians even though plenty of nongays
acquired AIDS through IV needle shar-
ing and contaminated blood products. It
should have been clear years ago that
there will be no heterosexual or lesbian
AIDS epidemic to parallel the gay one.
Recently, AIDS transmission in gays,
too, has fallen to near zero.
Gays have suffered enormously from
AIDS, and that is reason enough for
everybody to be concerned. But despite
the horrible buffeting it has taken, the
gay community will survive — and so
will gay sexuality. In fact, gays' extraor-
dinary response to the epidemic was
possible precisely because of the erotic
bonds holding the community together.
The wide range of activities undertaken
by gays, from putting political pressure
on the government to caring for the sick
to making individual adjustments in
sexual practice, represents an unparal-
leled case of spontaneous self-
organization in which the established
authorities played a decidedly secondary
The way gays have adapted and
preserved their sexual fellowship in the
face of AIDS is the most inspiring story
of the decade. It shows how we all can
unite around our sexual energy to
challenge the forces that repress us. So
cut up those credit cards. Don't worry,
be happy. And use your happiness to be
And, kiddies, here's what else we have
for you today:
In Our American Economic Sys-
tem, a poem that appeared right at
deadline time, Bruce Jacobson comes
from out of nowhere to show that he's a
zippie too. See, already it's a trend. In
contrast. Bob Slaymaker's story Mom,
which concerns a NY bag lady, de-
scribes the attractions and contradic-
tions of what might be called a zinful
(zero income, no sex) way of life. Then,
in Children of the Night, Allen Krebs
— a sort of Gary Richardson without
credit cards — tells what it's like to work
in the public schools of an inner city.
We also have a story, Family Business
by Susan Rumsey, that extends shopp-
ing to life after death, with macabre
In our section on Esprit de Corp.,
Dan Herman and Trixie T-Square
reveal the seamy underside of creating a
sexy image for women. As usual, ma-
nipulation and oppression dominate the
work experience, Esprit's upbeat public
face notwithstanding. Esprit's special
irony is that its employees, themselves
mostly female, are laboring to provide
the very shopping ideals that motivate
people to keep toiling away. The work-
shop-work cycle is secure because its
promoters are trapped in it, just like
everyone else except the zippies. They too
crave material enrichment to compen-
sate for the debasement of human
relations that starts on the job.
Finally, we have a spread on the
conflict between staff and administra-
tion at the San Francisco Art Institute.
SFAFs employees have seized the initia-
tive in their lives. They're standing up
together against their superiors, and
having fun whUe they're at it. I bet their
sex lives are good, too.
— Green Fuchsia & the PW collective
'"•^^^ "'"'la's ??" «""
PROCESSED WORLD 23
MAKE A HABIT OF SUCCESS
From Down Under
Thanx as usual for a great maga-
zine 22, you only get better (except I
used to really like the multicolored
printing-but the boss's photocopier
didn't, so black is OK!)
Lucius Cabins' "Dollars and Ecolo-
gy" is a tonic for the troops! I'm
fuckin' fed up with wimpy greenies.
The paragraph beginning "instead of
stepping back..." down in the LH
bottom of page 9 says it all baby! I
like this critical stance you take on
lots of issues-the mainstream left gets
fat and sloppy if we (anarchists,
individuals, etc.) don't keep a close
watch on their activities. Giant
Sponge is "hot," too!
Our friend the VDT has been up
(workers) and down (boss) a few times
already in our lift. [Ed. Does this
mean it was posted in an elevator ?]
It's great to get value packed double
pages like this instant agitation prop-
Our neglected cities — whilst being
a bit too compromising and rational-
ist for me inspires me to send you
another article from an Australian
magazine — NEXUS — mostly full of
soft core stuff and ads for NEW AGE
SHIT but occasional value (like they
had an article on Katya last issue
too!). I'm sending them a copy of your
Idea for future issue there: the new
age... I really do think that this is a big
threat to the further development of
human society (read: the revolution).
A threat because it takes bits from
everywhere that are by themselves
good — blends them together but casts
it all in a mould of cappo-
individualism that seems to go hand
in glove with all this laissez-faire and
New Right stuff. Like one crystal
worshiper I was talking to the other
day expressed the common New Age
belief that "If you're sick its because
you want to be sick. If you're unemp-
loyed its because you want to be
unemployed, therefore no sickpay, no
As Shirly Mclean [sic) says you are
your god so are responsible for every-
thing happening to you. Forget Capi-
talism forget Socialism forget even
Unionism it's all based on Individual-
ism and so lets all these get-rich-
quick "Herbalife" etc. piggy-back on
top of good alternative lifestyle ideas.
Just like we should criticize the
Eco-professionals, I would like to see
PW look at the New Age professionals
and its implications. Basically the
cooption of solid leftist stuff by the far
I'm not expressing myself clearly at
all here, but I've got this idea & its a
passionate one — perhaps you can see
my point. One day I'll find a words
person to work with me (a radio
worker) 'cos when I get them words
together, boy am I gonna make the
scathingest satirical attack on the
New Age/Right ever. Get the musi-
cians — I mean Windham Hill is a
pretty easy target for theft!
Oh yeah loved "Learning Curve"
too. Just today news is coming about
people working to privatise the jails
over here in Australia. I was outraged
that anyone could suggest such a
thing and then I read "L.C." and
talked to a friend about it who told me
that the U.S. already has privatized
jails. FUCK ME! No wonder the sta-
tistics show a lower rate of recidivism
to those for-profit places: they must
Also the Dante quote & graffic on
pg. 43 V. nice. I love all this stuff — as
I said instant posters. Your work is
joyfully plundered by local propa-
gandists — hopefully the few graffics I
have sent will put a little back your
I could go on but 2 pages is
probably enough — sorry to authors &
artists I missed but what I am saying
is I like the PW collective's output in
general. Like I'm a pushbike com-
muter (or at least when the RSIs
behaving itself [Repetitive Stress
Syndrome]) so anything on bikes I'm
STAND FAST HANG IN
BE STRONG HOLD ON
— SW(2)T New South Wales
P.S....why not do a songs/poems/
graffix of protest issue. Have written
some originals, happy to contribute
also want to cover other peoples'
P.P.S. Talcott's "Friday" poem
cracked me up completely on the bus
this morning — started looking out for
that blue chewy.
PROCESSED WORLD 23
Your material on "autodestruction"
certainly spoke to one of my long-
standing pet peeves. Dependency on
the automobile as the way to meet our
need to get around has become so
total in the postwar era and yet it is so
destructive: Air pollution from ex-
hausts, "greenhouse" effect from mass
world-wide combustion of fossil fuels,
the highest fatality-per-passenger-
mile rate of any mode of transport,
inefficiency of energy use compared
with electric rail systems or even
buses, the acceptance of thousands of
deaths and injuries yearly from auto-
mobiles as if this were "inevitable",
the gobbling up of formerly produc-
tive farm lands outside cities for the
building of ugly sprawl, all the wast-
ed space devoted to parking lots and
ever-more-congested roads, the atom-
izing of city life as public areas
such as sidewalks are depopulated in
favor of each individual in his/her
Growing up in Los Angeles in the
years after World War 11 , I constantly
heard the refrain that this auto-
organized world was the "inevitable
line of progress." As a youngster I
wasn't yet able to articulate counter-
arguments to this universal blather,
but I knew in my gut something was
In fact it is not too difficult to see
that a different sort of direction would
have been technically possible — even
for Los Angeles, that city that has
come to personify, perhaps more than
any other, the postwar trend of auto-
mania and suburban sprawl.
I remember the miles of farmland
— devoted to walnut orchards, etc. —
in the San Fernando Valley in the
'50s, mile after mile of orange groves
along two-lane, tree-lined roads in
Orange County, the extensive marsh-
lands along the Orange County coast,
and the vineyards and small wineries
in the country stretching east of Los
Angeles towards San Bernardino. All
of this is now gone, totally trans-
formed by uncontrolled land specula-
tion. By the late '60s the air had
become so rancid the remaining cit-
rus trees in outlying areas were dying
and, in any case, the growers were
eyeing the potential profits from land
sales as the approaching freeways
made suburban development an im-
The Sepulveda Flood Control Basin
near Van Nuys gives an idea of what
could have been done: As a spillover
area in case of flash floods, a chunk of
the San Fernando Valley has been
preserved in its original state, with its
annual harvest of pvmipkins and other
produce. There is no reason that large
swaths of land between the towns on
the Southern California coastal plain
could not have been preserved as
permanent agricultural conservan-
cies, just as the Sepulveda Basin has
been. Instead of endless suburban
sprawl consuming the whole coastal
plain like a cancer, development
might have been concentrated in
increasingly dense urban areas along
As far as transportation is con-
cerned, Los Angeles already had in
place in the '40s an "interurban" rafl
system that, if it had been suitably
improved and expanded, could have
provided at least the begirmings of an
alternative to the private automobfle.
"Interurban" was the term for a type
of troUey system that was very com-
mon in the U.S. of A. through the '30s
but virtuaUy extinct today. Unlike a
conventional streetcar system, which
typically has its tracks in street pave-
ment within a city, an "interurban"
typically runs mostly on private right
of way to outlying towns and suburbs.
These rights of way were particularly
important because they made it pos-
sible for trains to operate over longer
distances at higher speeds, and
would enable a system to be more
easily upgraded to rapid transit as
warranted by increasing urban densi-
system, thus, had been built as an
adjunct to the real estate ventures of
H.E. Huntington, heir of one of the
Southern Pacific "robber barons."
(People who've seen the movie "Chi-
natown" may recall that L.A. busi-
nessmen of that era also did occa-
sionally make vise of goverrmient sub-
sidies—in that case, the construction
of the Owens Valley aqueduct, which
vastly increased the value of land
owned by Huntington and his pals in
the desert-Uke San Fernando Valley.
But at that time water was as far as
goverrmient responsibflity had
L.A.'s "Red Car" system always had
to be subsidized by other, more prof-
itable ventures because, in fact, the
system was always unprofitable. In
1911 Southern Pacific bought out
Huntington. S.P. wanted to make sure
the huge freight traffic generated by
P.E. went east over its own rails and
not those of competitors such as Santa
Fe. During the 42 years that the "Red
Car" lines were operated under S.P.
auspices (1911-1953), Pacific Elec-
tric only declared a profit in eight
years: 1912-13, 1923, 1942-45 and
1948. The profit in 1942-45 was due
to war-time restrictions on private
auto travel (gas rationing, etc.). The
marginal profit in 1948 was due to a
fare hike — which only resulted in
further ridership losses the following
year, and a return to red ink. The
losses would have been worse without
GRAPHIC BY MOAMMAR CRAWDADDY
It is hard to imagine today, but L.A.
was the center of the world's largest
"interurban" — the Pacific Electric
"Red Car" system, which was still
carrying passengers over 900 miles of
track as late as 1950.
In the postwar era, Southern Cali-
fornia real estate speculators could
depend upon the goverrmient to pro-
vide massive subsidies for their profi-
teering schemes through freeway,
street and utility construction, etc.
But at the turn of the century the real
estate developers had to provide for
the transport and utility needs of
residents themselves. The "Red Car"
the profits from freight-hauling.
Nowadays the business class has
grudgingly resigned itself to the real-
ity that public transport of people in
cities must be sudsidized, especially
after it was rendered hopelessly un-
profitable in the postwar era by the
huge goverrmient subsidies to a com-
.peting form of transport (autos). But
even back in the '20s and '30s the
public transit industry was not profit-
able enough to attract the capital
that would have been required for
massive rapid transit improvements
needed to keep up with urban devel-
opment and competitive pressure
PROCESSED WORLD 23
from the auto industry.
Public transit has been chronically
underfunded essentially because it is
a pubUc good — it provides all sorts of
side benefits on top of the value to the
individual passenger of each particu-
lar ride. These benehts accrue to the
various businesses, landowners and
government and private agencies lo-
cated along the rail lines. But the
"Red Car" system had no right, under
the prevailing capitahst setup, to go
to those organizations and say, "Re-
imburse us for the service we pro-
vide." The rail system could only get
revenue from selling something it
could privately control: rides.
"pubUc good." So the logic of the
private enterprise, market system
naturally leads to degradation of the
Because "Red Car" passenger op-
erations were unprofitable, its owner
(S.P.) had no incentive to invest in
improvements. Like any other capi-
talist outfit, S.P. is going to put its
capital where it has the best chance
to grow. The result was that S.P.
simply refused to rebuild worn-out
tracks (except for certain lines that
had a high volume of freight traffic)
and refused to buy new cars.
By the late '40s the tracks on many
of the lines were in awful shape —
Or, to put the same point in another
way, the auto-manufacturers, petro-
leum-refiners, suburban developers
and other companies profiting hom
the transition to an auto-dependent
society did not have to pay the social
costs of auto-dependency that have
now become much more obvious than
they were back in the 'SOs and '40s
(now that we're choking on them). A
built-in defect of a capitahst economy
is that there are many costs and
benefits to society that are not ade-
quately reflected in the money that
changes hands through the countless
private transactions that makes up
the money economy.
Companies could, for example, use
up the clean air (by polluting it)
without having to pay for it (until
belated goverrmient regulations be-
gan to impose some token costs). Or,
to put it the other way, if a company
spent a lot of money to avoid pollut-
ing the air, it couldn't then go to
everyone and say, "Pay us for this
expense we've incurred." They
couldn't do so because clean air, like
a good public transit system, is a
typically, trains were running on the
original rail laid down at the turn of
the century. As government subsidies
to auto transport increased, thou-
sands of grade crossings had been cut
through the rights of way, which
posed a hazard that required slower
operating speeds. In the older, cen-
tral part of Los Angeles the lines
operated in congested city streets,
which slowed down operation consid-
A technical solution existed for
these problems. The P.E. operations
could have been upgraded to rapid
transit through incremental improve-
ments. Viaducts could have been
built to carry tracks over street cross-
ings and subways could have been
built to replace the streetcar tracks in
the more densely built areas, like
For example, the main problem
facing the lines to the western beach
communities was the use of streetcar
tracks for the first hve miles out of
downtown. The private right of way
began at a major junction and rail
yard called "Vineyard" (in back of the
Sears department store on Pico Bou-
levard). But as early as 1904 a
private right of way had been ac-
quired for a subway from downtown
to Vineyard through neighborhoods
that have since become the most
densely populated area in Southern
California. A proposal to construct
that subway as a federally-funded
public works project at the height of
the Great Depression carried a $19
million pricetag (that's about $184
million in 1986 dollars). After the
Venice line was abandoned in 1950
the unused subway right of way was
sold off for apartment house construc-
tion. Vineyard was converted into —
what else? — a shopping center.
A system that works on the basis of
short-term private profits ends up
doing all sorts of short-sighted stu-
pidities. The failure to carry out the
numerous rapid transit improvements
proposed for the "Red Car" system in
the '20s, '30s and '40s has proved to
be one of the most obvious stupidities
The last "Red Car" line — the line to
Long Beach, abandoned in 1961 — is
now being rebuilt on the very same
right of way at a cost of almost half a
Moreover, the service will be inferi-
or to what could have been provided
on even a moderately improved "Red
Car" system. That's because they no
longer have the 4-track mainline
which enabled the longer-distance
trains to run non-stop on the center
two tracks for the seven miles from
downtown to Watts while Watts locals
made the numerous stops on the
outside tracks to service residents of
the neighborhoods along the way.
The new "light rail" trains will have to
make numerous stops through these
neighborhoods which will lengthen
the travel time to Long Beach.
My point here is that a particular
technological direction — increasingly
total auto-dependence — was not "in-
evitable" but came about because cer-
tain other possible directions of tech-
nological development were closed
off by the logic of capitalist develop-
ment. The author of your article cites
the efforts of National City Lines to
dismantle trolley systems in the U.S.
Though National City Lines did take
over the conventional streetcar sys-
tem in central L.A. (another company
founded by H.E. Huntington, called
Los Angeles Railway), they did not
take over the Pacific Electric lines,
contrary to the popular myth. I think
we can trace this myth back to the
PROCESSED WORLD 23
testimony of muckraker Bradford
Snell. Snell confused the two trolley
systems in L.A. (In the jargon of local
residents these two systems were
distinguished by their paint schemes:
"Red Cars" vs. "Yellow Cars".)
Yet, there is an element of truth to
the myth: The outfit that did take over
the "Red Car" remnants (Metropoli-
tan Coach Lines) was headed by a
former National City Lines manager
with the same anti-rail orientation
and backed by the same auto and
petroleum interests. Nonetheless,
though MCL did dismantle two of the
lines (they shut down L.A.'s trolley
subway in 1955), I don't think we can
explain what happened by seeing it
as a "conspiracy" of certain big
monopolists. Of the 18 "Red Car"
lines that still existed in early 1950,
12 had already been shutdown by the
time MCL entered the picture in '53.
For example, S.P. abandoned the six
lines of the "Northern District" (to San
Gabriel Valley destinations such as
Pasadena) in 1951; S.P.'s excuse was
its reluctance to spend $125,000 to
relocate track to get around freeway
construction in downtown L.A.
During the critical phase in the
history of L.A.'s "Red Car" system —
the mass abandormients of 1950-52
— the Los Angeles city government
was controlled by the "progressive"
administration of Fletcher Bowren,
elected in a ClO-initiated recall
campaign in 1938. Though the Bow-
ren administration was sympathetic
to upgrading the "Red Car" lines to
rapid transit, they were not able to
overcome the powerful forces in
American society (especially strong
in Southern CaUfornia) that opposed
public funding for rail mass transit.
(In 1953 the Bowren administration
was accused by the Los Angeles
Times of being riddled with commies
and lost a bitter election — a casualty
of the Cold War.)
Private auto ownership held the
promise of personal mobiUty. As an
increasing proportion of the work-
force owned automobiles, the poten-
tial constituency for a highway-
oriented policy expanded. The post-
war transformation of Southern CaU-
fornia was only just beginning, and,
thus, the reincid air quality and daily
traffic frustrations of today were still
in the future. And S.P. took the
position that it could not be asked to
shoulder financial losses so that rights
of way would be preserved for some
future time when the pohtical climate
The predominant consensus
amongst the political leadership of
PROCESSED NORLD 28
the area— both liberals and conser-
vatives — left the criterion of profita-
bility unchallenged and thus accept-
ed the destruction of the "Red Car"
system as "inevitable."
This failure of the political system
remained to the end: The last four
lines — the "Southern District" lines
to Watts, Long Beach, San Pedro and
Bellflower — were shut down by the
State of California (under the Uberal
administration of Pat Brown) after it
took over L.A.'s transit systems in
1958. The pohtical system is domi-
nated by the perceived needs and
values of the business community,
and so it should not be surprising that
it tends to go along with "business as
The decline, and eventual destruc-
tion, of the "Red Car" system hap-
pened precisely because it was im-
prolitable, not because of a "conspir-
acy" of auto interests. Capitalism isn't
rim as a conspiracy of bad guys in a
back room. What happens in the
system is due to the particular way it
is put together — domination of every-
thing by market exchange and mon-
ey, having to sell yourself to live, the
criterion of profitability governing
everything. It is precisely this social
organization that accounts for the
degradation of public transportation
in 20th century America.
D. W. replies:
Agreed!! That's exactly why I talked
about auto-mobility enriching corp-
orate coffers like no other consumer
product. Organizations set up to build
and sell automobiles will become
very good at all methods for ensuring
profits in the business, including put-
ting the competition out of business
by whatever means possible. National
City Lines was simply the logical ex-
treme to which the automakers would
go in order to ensure that their corp-
orate policies would become the na-
tion's (and the world's) transportation
Timber Land CR
Dear Processed World,
Thank-you, Med-O, for writing the
tale of toil that I have always wanted
to write! Thank-you for saving me
quite a bit of creative, imaginary
work!! As a former tree planter in-
volved in that chaotic period, I can
say that you have accurately port-
rayed a movement that struggled to
be recognized and to have an effect,
but that was up against something
bigger than we could put back, basi-
cally global destruction by clearcut-
ting. Many were the times that I
would be literally in tears and sob-
bing as I drove into large clearcut
areas such as the Shelton Ranger
District (Washington) or the eastern
side of the Cascades, where we expe-
rienced that "act of God [sic]" under
the famed St. Helens cloud of ash. In
areas such as these, clearcutting
happens in rocky areas that will never
reproduce the former stands of trees.
Perhaps the only critique I can offer
is that I got a sense that Med-O,
perhaps because of his current isola-
tion from direct action of this kind,
tends to underestimate our impact on
the forestry industry as a whole. The
idea of women flashing breasts at a
fuzz-brained inspector was humorous
and certainly had its consciousness-
raising effects on the inspector, but I
think that this example is merely
symbolic of a larger consciousness-
raising effect on the overall industry
that Med-O downplayed. The forestry
industry and the individuals who run
it are in general dense and greedy,
and they do things in a macho,
destructive, uncontrolled fashion. I
think that our presence as workers,
however limited, has given them a
glimmer of how environmentally cor-
rect the use of resources could be.
For example, slash burning is a key
insane practice that is being chal-
lenged, and if it is stopped, could
have a dramatic effect on how fores-
try land is managed. On a number of
other issues, too, including pesticides
(which Med-O talks about), undocu-
mented workers, specifications of
contracts, selective cutting, alder
management, conifer release, sus-
taining the cooperative movement,
and performance of inspectors, the
cooperative forestry movement
should be recognized as a group of
people who decided to rebel against
the status quo, and, come what may,
however briefly in an historical sense,
significantly challenged and
changed the ideas within an industry
entrenched in unenlightened de-
struction. Yes, worker/owners do
"manage" their own exploitation, but
within their action, they carry the
seed of consciousness transformation
that is the essential ingredient of
C.T.— Olympia, WA
continued on page 42
WE AIN'T WORKING ON
A collaboration by Lucius Cabins, Adam Cornford, Green Fuchsia,
and Med-o, the text below appeared in a leaflet Processed World dis-
tributed at the "Greening of the West" conference held this fall in the
coastal mountains south of San Francisco (a version of this leaflet also
circulated at an Earth First gathering held earlier in Northern Cali-
fornia). Controversy quickly surrounded our entre to the conference (see
"Movement of Substance or Fiber?").
The text takes up major issues that the Greens largely ignore. We
support wilderness struggles worldwide. But a direct defense of remote
flora, fauna, and natural resources against "development" is not an
immediately accessible political expression for most who live in or
The reclaiming and restoration of our cities are as crucial as struggles
in the hinterlands. The struggle for viable urban ecologies — not neces-
sarily those prefigured by the vegetarian diets, natural fiber wardrobes,
Windham Hill music and other preferences of the flourishing Green
consumer subculture — is an exciting prospect and a challenge to our
collective imagination. These struggles will involve contests for political
and economic power, topics about which many Greens remain silent (see
"Dollars and Ecology: Different Shades of Green?" in Processed
World 22j. For most of us at Processed World, the "green thing"
has emerged as fertile political ground because it suggests a way to give
positive content to an alternative social agenda. It is a way that could
engage and even "reemploy" countless office and technology workers
whose creative energies are currently stifled, or squandered, processing
the fiscal alchemy that is late capitalism.
The time has come to explore the perspectives raised below. In fact,
we are in the primitive stages of planning an urban ecology conference
in San Francisco for fall 1989. Perhaps you, like many of us, are a
"wannabe Green" —feeling excluded by, yet attracted to. Green politics.
Please write us with your ideas, donations (payable to Bay Area Center
for Art and Technology), and help. We promise a conference that is
neither boring nor humorless. _ /) //.
he Greens' combination of electoral poli-
tics, direct action tactics, and relatively decentralized, non-
hierarchical organization has made an important contribu-
tion to the fight against the corporate-government leviathan
destroying our biosphere. But activists remain far from
gaining the power to really alter the world's suicidal course.
That power can only come from an urban, work-based
movement able to contest the economy's fundamental in-
Creating such a movement means first of all dropping the
seemingly irresistible urge to guilt-trip people who haven't
embraced eco-asceticism. Certainly, mindless consumption
is a problem on which recycling, prudent buying habits,
and boycotts can have some impact. However, atomized
individual consumers are not the core of the problem, nor
are they the key to the solution. In the first place, large cor-
porate and governmental entities (like the military) are by
far the greatest polluters and resource pillagers. Secondly,
attacking consumption on the basis of individual guilt
fails to acknowledge the incredibly narrow range of life-
style choices available to most people in the global capitalist
system. This tack places emphasis on the very limited power
of consumer "choice" rather than on people's real social
power as producers.
Changing our course requires new insights about the
world we would like to live in, how we would like to function
in that world, and how what we do now is an impediment
to reaching our goals. If we merely adopt simplicity and
moderation as our watchwords and fail to bring new con-
cepts of wealth and the good life into the movement's vision,
a widening of participation across class, race, and cultural
lines to include those who have never attained affluence is
"Work First!" Means "Earth Second!"
Instead of a broad-based discussion on how to formulate
economic goals that respect both natural and human needs,
we hear talk of "community-based economics." This amounts
to little more than a plan for small business associations,
albeit frequently based on employee ownership. Although
there are of course ecological advantages to economic
localism, such localism in itself does not challenge the logic
of the market, nor can it contest the really large blocs of
capital— IBM, General Motors, the USSR— that control the
global marketplace. Not even worker ownership marks a
break with market relationships, since worker cooperatives
will have to achieve the same level of productive efficiency
as the giants do to compete successfully. Worker-owners
will either have to speed themselves up or lay themselves
Worker cooperatives will need to yield the same profit
margins as other businesses to survive, and they will be faced
with the same tradeoffs between ecology and economics
that other businesses are faced with. The pressure to com-
promise the environment to get a higher rate of profit will
While "community-based" companies strive to accumu-
late capital locally, the people working in them remain
wage laborers. This is the heart of the problem. The con-
tinued control of production by closed, profit-oriented eco-
nomic units employing workers motivated largely by direct
material rewards spawns a culture centered on material
acquisition. And nature is reduced to a set of resources to
PROCESSED WORLD 23
A Systemic Poison
As individuals, we have virtually no say over the purpose
of the time for which we are paid. After working all week
making one product or another — be it computer code,
automobiles, or windmills — we get our money and then,
we are told, that's when our freedom beginsl Yet it is during
those unfree hours on the job that we most actively partici-
pate in the ecological devastation of the world.
We cannot escape by finding a "good job." The problem
is systemic. You might not personally dump toxics in the
local water supply, but your work is linked to a chain of
ecologically destructive actions. You might, for instance,
be a secretary/word processor for a manufacturer of pro-
cessed health foods. While on the job, you use computer
equipment whose production entailed leaching toxics into
the Santa Clara Valley water table. The reams of paper
your printer cranks out are made from trees clearcut from
diminishing forests. Most importantly, the making of gra-
nola bars and other pseudo-wholesome foods "your" com-
pany churns out involves all sorts of noxious effects, from
release of greenhouse gases during manufacture of the plas-
tic wrappers to massacre of plant and insect species by
Today, work is not only killing us as workers — it is kill-
ing the planet. All work processes and technologies should
be evaluated according to their effects on their users, on
their immediate surroundings, and on the long-term health
of the biosphere. Last, but definitely not least, production
must be justified by the intrinsic value it has for human
"People First!" Means "Nature First!"
The tendency to romanticize nature while denigrating
human beings is the greatest impediment Greens face in try-
ing to organize a mass radical ecological movement. An
appreciation of the capacity for growth that nature has
bestowed on humanity is, in contrast, the first step toward
gaining the support Green politics so richly deserves. Greens
need to understand the strength of the confining fetters
wage labor and its attendant materialism impose on hu-
man thought. Once those fetters are removed, an ethical
system that encourages creative cooperation between free
human beings could arise, and human beings could take
their place as the self-conscious expression of the natural
system as a whole.
Strategically, Greens should take advantage of the cul-
tural crucible city life represents instead of rejecting urbani-
zation as antiecological. Modern cities, because of their
A Movement of Substance or Fiber?
Processed World and friends caused a stir in the miso soup line at
the "Greening of the West" conference, which attracted over one thousand
participants (by organizer's estimates). The cartoon shown here accom-
panied an article in the San Jose Metro, a Silicon Valley weekly. In his
"Green Eggs and Miso, "journalist Hal Plotkin opened and closed with
an anecdote featuring an unnamed PWct- (Lucius Cabins) lamenting the
strictly vegetarian menu at the outdoor cafeteria. (While not explicitly
banning meat, the conference issued restrictions on tobacco and alcohol
consumption.) During the week following the conference, and exchange
satirizing the gathering's "vegetable hegemony" appeared over an elec-
tronic mail "net" at a large Silicon Valley electronics corporation. In the
subsequent issue q/ Metro, a reader attacked journalist Plotkin for
"trivializing" the conference. The letter claimed that the gathering "was
not about miso soup, magic mushrooms or discrimination against meat
eaters; rather, it was a celebration of the continued growth of a spirited
movement whose time has come. "
In fact, many of us felt excluded by much of the discussion, if not the
conference, which lacked the sense of hope and especially the energy of a
movement. Standing firmly by our meat preferences (actually, we're
omnivores; our beef is not with vegetarian diets but with vegetarians
whose politics preclude carnivores), we retreated on Saturday evening to
a picnic site (in"McDonald" State Park) outside the conference where
we roasted our steaks, chops, sausages, and breasts and talked about
our desires for an urban-based green gathering: a "Wannabe Green"
conference. — £) H.
concentration of people with diverse backgrounds, provide
unparalleled opportunities for the development and dis-
semination of new ideas. Besides being cultural centers,
metropolitan areas are also economic centers. They are
where the exploitative relationship between humans and
nature originates. Only urban workers have the power to
seize control of the work machine and stop it from rolling
over the Earth, ourselves, and all living things.
Fortunately, past workers' movements provide a rich
legacy of antihierarchical forms and ingenious tactics:
direct democracy, coordination by recallable delegates, slow-
downs, sabotage, occupations . . . The popular backing the
new left received in the sixties demonstrated the enormous
appeal libertarian ideas have in this country while in the
eighties, the forces of liberty are on the rise from Moscow
to Manila, Seoul to Soweto. The Green movement des-
perately needs this rebellious energy. To become more than
a marginal force. Greens have to realize that respect for
nature and human liberation go hand in hand.
PROCESSED WORLD 23
"It's like if I see a fat, ugly girl walking down the
street in an Esprit sweatshirt. I don't want that kind of
Doug Tompkins, co-owner of Esprit.
"These are not clothes for people who sit behind
desks every day and hate their jobs."
Tom Direnzo, Esprit outlet manager.
The substance of fashion is in its perception. The
designer sees the design refracted through the con-
sumers' eyes. The world of fashion is also one of
contradictions and illusion. Ordinary people doing
ordinary things become extraordinary; advertisement
and ideology become blurred. Dreams and dollars
collide and scatter new fashions and forms in their
A case in point is Esprit de Corp. It is a dream: of its
owners — or perhaps the label "parents" better describes
Doug and Susie Tompkins — its consumers and the
fashion oracles. It practices what it preaches aind it
never never tells the truth.
Which came first: The current marital problems of
the Esprit owners or the divergent views of the
company's product? This is perhaps a conundrum on
the order of the egg and the chicken, for the polarity of
their relation has to all accounts been part and parcel
of both success aind failure.
The company is virulently anti-union, a feeling
dating back to the Tompkins' creation of the Great
Chinese American Sewing Co. in San Francisco.
Following an ILGWU attempt at organizing, the
Tompkins fired a worker who signed a union card, and
then closed the plant entirely. The union won a law
suit (after 10 years) and collected $1.25 million in back
wages. Since then. Esprit has relocated its production
to offshore trade zones. Apparendy the workers who
actually produce the clothes are excluded from the
mandate of former Senior Vice President Thomas
Moncho: "It's a sin here not to develop your potential."
Esprit retail clerks must look elsewhere for develop-
ment subsidies: the hourly wage (in 1987) at the SF
store (gross sales of $20 million) is a munificent
$5.00 — down from $5.50! The salesworkers are sold
discounted shirts, but are required to wear black slacks
and dark socks and shoes.
The designers of image, however, fared better — the
corporate headquarters boasts many amenities, as well
as subsidized vacations and the use of company
facilities. Perhaps the method to this discrimination is
found in the effort to shape The Image, which is
everything in this business.
The image began to tarnish in late 1986, as
problems emerged. Said one observer, "Suddenly
Esprit ran into this incredible wall of consumer
resistance." Although sales remained flat, profits fell
by 80. The expansion into retail stores foundered;
overseas sales were doing well (in places like Chile),
but remitted insufficient funds to the home office.
There have been wholesale replacements of personnel
at senior levels, the introduction of executives from
other fashion companies, and a new sales force. With
the prospect of reduced profits, the company showed
its professional staff the same courtesies it had
previously bestowed only on garment workers — a 30
layoff, wages and bonus reductions, warehouse clos-
ings, and extensive "perk" rollbacks. Employees now
buy their own coffee and pay for personal phone calls.
The days are gone when a manager, considered to be
"negative and burnt out," would be sent on a European
trip in the hope that she would conclude that she no
longer belonged at Esprit.
According to Susie, "Doug has always known we'd
get through... he doesn't ever think things will get out
of his control."
And control is indeed a central concept here. Says
Patagonia owner Yvon Chouinard, one of Mr.
Tompkins' closest friends, "Doug is not an Evel
Knievel type. Before he jumps, he knows he can do it."
Behind the "carefree" and "breezy" look of the fashion,
behind the amicable surroundings and benevolent
attentions is an overpowering need for domination and
an almost obsessive attention to detail.
PROCESSED WORLD 23
5 He once told his workers, "If I ask you what books
you've read to stimulate your brains, what adventures
you've had... what love affair was fulfilling... like good
coaches, we want answers and actions." Of his alleged
"septigon" of sexual relationships among Esprit em-
ployees, according to author Leonard Koren, "He
believes that if you want to harness [sic] the entire
employee, you have to engage the entire being." Could
it be the emperor of old fashioned harassment and
self-indulgence dressed up in new age clothes?
Management style differs as much as Image man-
agement, with Ms. Tompkins favoring a more "career"
look, maturing the line with the customer. Says she,
"I'm the product person and that's what I fight for."
She professes to have outgrown the leisure lifestyle,
and she is deeply concerned with AIDS and the
homeless (wouldn't it be "nice" if her concern extended
to Esprit's far-flung employees?).
Mr. Tompkins continues to look to youth as the icon
of fashion and sex. He prefers the vision of Esprit's
photographer Olivero Toscani, saying "This company
will never have a career orientation. Will I listen to
Toscani before I listen to Susie? You bet. He's the
image maker and she isn't."
Said Corrado Federico, chief operating officer of
Esprit's flagging fortunes, "You can have all the image
and panache in the world, but without substance forget
it." Substance, in the world of fashion?
Come with us now into the twilight between image
and reality. — by P. Morales
The chic tanned receptionist took in
my surplus pea coat and weathered
boots with disdainful curiosity, wonder-
ing what might possess this rustic in-
truder to pose as a new employee of
Esprit De Corp., San Francisco's home-
grown fashion capital. Indeed I felt
none too sure myself My career plans
hardly included typing business letters
for the trendsetter of flashy fashions for
the 1980's. But as I explained to the
young woman, I was a mere transient in
the church of trendiness having been
taken aboard as a temporary word
Once admitted to the inner sanctum,
I saw immediately that the creator of
Esprit had no love of things convention-
al. Esprit is the mission control of haute
couture: a cathedral-like assemblage of
glass walls and redwood beams; every
chair made of wicker and every desk
made of oak; and resting appropriately
atop each, state-of-the-art computers ot
all shapes and sizes.
Yet Esprit is far more than bold
architecture — it is a sort of corporate
Utopia. It boasts its own gourmet cafe, a
greenhouse, a small park, even a lawn
tennis court (the only one in Northern
California). On its walls hangs perhaps
the world's foremost collection of Amish
quilts, as well as exhibits of photos from
exotic lands. To keep all this impeccable
and orderly. Esprit hires full-time
landscapers, carpenters, even an archi-
tect or two. And moving gracefully
through this stylish complex like bright-
colored tropical fish are the Esprit execu-
tives themselves: predominantly healthy
lithe, nubile, young women, attired in
bold, modern styles and chic Italian
shoes (to keep them healthy, lithe and
nubile Esprit employs a full-time fitness
As if to cement my first impressions,
my smiling Esprit coworkers happily
informed me that all the rave media
reviews (Newsweek , Us Magazine, and so
forth) of Esprit are true. I was told that
Esprit is a progressive company that
cares about its workers; that it hires
diverse, "international" people; that it
believes in health and youthful vigor;
and that it is a darn fun place to work
where employees dress and act just as
they wish (so long as they're stylish).
And what's more 'exciting'— Esprit is on
the verge ot becoming a fashion empire
like Levi-Strauss. In addition to some
2,000 San Francisco employees. Esprit
has set up shop in over twenty foreign
But the more I saw, the more doubt-
ful I became. Whisk aside the sacchar-
ine Esprit public relations and you find
something quite unglamorous: an old-
fashioned, anti-union, anti-worker
company run by a man who discrimin-
ates against the old and unattractive,
who has no qualms about doing business
in South Africa and Chile, and whose
success is based on paying slave wages to
foreign textile workers.
The spiritual and financial force be-
hind Esprit is Doug Tompkins, the
45-year old president and owner (along
with wife Susie) of the company. Baby-
faced, silver-haired, trim and tanned, he
seems the distillation of the Esprit ideal:
fun-loving, lighthearted, yet success-
oriented. In keeping with Esprit's Tit-
ness' consciousness, he spends only
about halt the year on the job. The rest
of the time he jaunts around the world to
climb mountains, run rapids, and con-
sort with other high-powered fashion
Yet like most everything else at
Esprit, the real Doug Tompkins sharply
contrasts with the image of Doug
Tompkins. Doug master-minded the
image of the friendly, happy Espriter,
yet he remains aloof and enigmatic to
his workers. Most Espriters refer to him
as "Doug," but few know him well
enough to say hello. He occasionally
dines with upper-echelon employees,
but he scarcely notices the rank and file,
and he smiles only in photographs. His
employees reason that the pressures of
the industry keep him preoccupied. In
PROCESSED WORLD 23
any event, most agree that his diffidence
is surely not symptomatic of low self-
Despite the fact that Doug spends
little time at Esprit, he controls the
cosmetic details of the premises with
totalitarian fervor. Doug demands final
approval of any new furnishings, light-
ing, even small accessories like typing
Another cosmetic detail to which Doug
pays inordinate attention is hiring poli-
cy. When I first arrived at Esprit, I
asked a coworker why everyone looked
under 21. She shrugged, assuring me
that many were closer to 25 (she herself
was 19). Almost without exception Es-
prit hires the bright, cheery-faced young
people you might see in Club Med ads.
It is easy to imagine that Esprit manu-
factures its cute employees in Hong
Kong right alongside its cotton v-necks
and acetate skirts. The assembly line
does not, however, tend to produce
many blacks, hispanics or middle-aged
Whatever their age or race, the compa-
ny treats all workers the same: like
children. High-heeled shoes are banned
(ostensibly they could damage the wood-
en floor); workers are forbidden to
bring snacks or open beverages near the
work area (special mugs with hinged lids
are provided); workers may not wear
clothing with flashy logos other than
Esprit, etc. With all the rules. Esprit
could easily be mistaken for a boarding
school. On the wall in the cafe hangs a
framed aphorism that sums up the
atmosphere of the place; "Please pick up
after yourself, your mother doesn't work
In fact, your mother couldn't get a job
here — she would be too old. But more to
the point, your mother wouldn't want to
work at Esprit for fear of breaking her
neck. It is a good thing indeed that
Esprit stresses youth and fitness, be-
cause Espriters must be agile and well
coordinated to avoid slipping down the
narrow stairways of polished wood.
Workers say that Doug refuses to mar
their treacherous beauty with traction
strips (just about everyone recalls falling
down the stairs at least once).
Likewise, Espriters must be quick-
witted enough to dodge a glass partition
now and then (Doug believes in the
illusion of openness and communication
among workers, and thus installed glass
walls. The glass also offers the advan-
tage of exhibiting Doug's stable of
colorful employees — rather like a
Mac/s window display). Visitors at
Esprit, conspicuous by their clumsiness,
often see walls materialize within inches
of their faces, which is usually too late.
And if invisible walls and slippery stairs
aren't enough to keep Espriters agile and
alert, there are the wicker chairs, which
sounds harmless enough until you have
sat in one for a day. Only then do you
A WHOLE NEW WAY TO POSE
realize that Espriters must have espe-
cially strong backs, since their chairs
give no support whatsoever. Esprit once
supplied workers with dull, old office
chairs but Doug tossed them out in
favor of the cute but rickety wicker.
Workers sometimes complain of chronic
backaches but are promptly reminded
that at Esprit image is everything.
Of course, if you think about it, image
is not everything. It is mere illusion. Yet
Doug Tompkins and Esprit have bravely
ventured beyond the realm of image and
into the realm of the callous. Back in
1974, a youthful Esprit celebrated its
puberty by locking out some 125 manual
workers at the company-owned Great
Chinese American Sewing Company in
Chinatown. This magnanimous step
was taken because the workers wanted
to join a union. After a lengthy legal
battle, the National Labor Relations
Board awarded the workers $1.25 mil-
lion in back wages. Tompkins, however,
is not a man who likes being told how to
run his business. Esprit moved its manu-
facturing overseas mostly to the Far East
where workers know their place.
Doing business in repressive nations
has subsequently become something of a
crusade for Tompkins. Not only does
Esprit conduct a thriving business in
South Africa and Chile, but Tompkins
has also launched the "American Free
Trade Council," an organization that
lobbies for the lofty principle of, what
else, free trade. Despite its noble ideals,
Esprit refuses to comment on any of
this. Either the company does not wish
PROCESSED WORLD 23
to brag of good works, or its spokesmen
are fearful of the provision in the
company manual threatening dismissal
for any negative statements made to the
The best way to describe the brave new
world at Esprit is, in fact, 'see no evil,
hear no evil.' Whatever its shortcom-
ings, Esprit continues to be inundated
with resumes from credulous young
grads who are attracted to the compa-
ny's image. Esprit is even now planning
to build a "campus-like Esprit City" for
its deserving executives. And Esprit
continues to present itself as a populist
organization by using 'real people' in its
ads (which greatly cuts down on model-
Such a real person is Ariel ODonnell, a
San Francisco waitress who had the
good fortune of serving Doug and Susie
one evening. Over the next several days
she was ushered into the Esprit head-
quarters for a photography session and
an interview. Her face appeared in
Esprit ads in Mademoiselle, Glamour.
Vanity Fair, Elk and Metropolitan Home.
The caption in the ads reads: Ariel
O'Donnell, San Francisco, California.
Age 21. Waitress/Bartender. Non-
professional AIDS Educator. Cyclist.
Art Restoration Student. Anglophile.
Neo-Feminist. Clearly a model citizen
of the Esprit Utopia.
In fact, however, a 1987 issue oi Irnage
magazine reported O'Donnell's true bi-
ography like this: "Waitress, bartender
and cyclist are factual descriptions.
Non-professioncil AIDS educator and
neo-feminist, O'Donnell assumes, were
extrapolations from her interview re-
mark. 'No longer can we be sexually
free. We have to be safe. So if I were
sleeping with someone new, I'd insist he
use a condom.' An interest in art
restoration became 'art restoration stu-
From the perspective of history, all of
this blurring of reality doesn't really
matter — Utopias don't usually last long.
But Esprit is somehow above history.
With its existence based on a gaseous
cloud of image. Esprit has proven as
resilient as superstition itself. Perhaps
it's time to call an exorcist.
by Dan Herman
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PROCESSED WORLD 23
YOU'VE GOT TO GIVE ME CREDIT
"The Nineties are going to be our decade." said
Rick, over spinach saJad at some too-expensive
restaurant in Georgetown.
"I beHeve that," I said. "But first we have to get
through the Eighties."
People wonder how I survive — financially, that is.
It's simple in theory, though complicated in practical
terms. I live on credit cards.
I know all America lives on credit cards, but I live
on (almost) nothing else. I haven't had a full time job
for four years now.
Annually I apply for more revolving credit on
MasterCards (currently I have fifteen). Visas (21),
Discovers (3), Choices (2), Optimas (2) and other bank
credit lines that access checks (4).
At the moment I have $137,550 in unsecured
revolving credit from American banks.
At the moment I owe $100,000 to them.
I also have about $60,000 in CDs, money market
deposit accounts, savings and checking accounts.
As long as I keep the credit-mobile going— by
paying my credit accounts every month and then
borrowing the money back — and as long as my credit
limits keep getting raised to meet my needs, I do well.
Better than most people who work.
Jerry, a systems analyst at a firm where he's stayed
on too long— three years — doesn't approve of what I'm
doing. He and my other friends worry about me.
"You've got no security," he tells me over dinner —
angel hair pasta with sun-dried tomatoes — at Marvin
Gardens on Broadway and West 83rd.
Jerry's father worked at the post office for forty
years. Now he plays handball every day.
"Besides, doesn't it terrify you owing all that
money?" Jerry asks me.
"Does it terrify Ronald Reagan to be head of a
country that has a trillion-dollar debt?" I ask.
"It's not the same thing," Jerry says.
Linda, editor-in-chief of a magazine for weight-
watching women, tells me, "It all sounds a little
sleazy," when we meet for brunch at the Fontainebleau
in Miami Beach. She is in Florida on a stopover to a
travel writer's tour of Costa Rica. Several times a year
she gets these free trips from PR agencies, usually in
exchange for a promise to write an article.
"I'm actually helping the American economy," I try
to explain. "They're always worried about consumer
growth slowing down. It's the consumers who have
spent enough to make this recovery the longest one
PROCESSED WORLD 23
since World War II. I keep money moving —
borrowing on cash advances on one Visa, putting the
money in the bank, paying back a MasterCard... I
believe I'm behaving quite patriotically."
Linda doesn't buy it.
Well, I don't buy much myself, which, in fact, is the
secret to my plan. I'm very, very cheap.
Unlike the Yuppies, who are patriotic in consump-
tion, I hate to buy anything.
I haven't bought new clothes in several years. I have
only one pair of running shoes, replaced every fifteen
months or so at Kinney's. I don't own regular shoes.
Unlike Jerry, I don't need suits, dress shirts or ties.
Carlyle, whose "Sartor Resartus" I was forced to
read a dozen years ago, said one smart thing. To
enlarge the fraction of life, he explained, you could
either increase the numerator or decrease the deno-
My denominator is very low.
And life really is a fraction, not a whole number.
Otherwise the Yuppies would be right when they say
your salary is life's report card. It's not. All numbers,
even whole numbers, are fractions — the relationship of
one number to another.
I figure I'm way ahead of everyone.
"But you lie when you apply for credit," Jerry says.
The Fortune 500 corporation that he works for has
recently been fined several million dollars by the
Jerry is right. I say I am the Director of Training of
Information in Motion, Inc. and earn an annual gross
salary of $103,000. (If I had claimed to be something
as high as Vice-President, they would have suspected I
was self-employed — the kiss of death in the credit
I suppose this is a crime, but I don't care.
Surviving the Eighties has made me a hardened
criminal. Like it did to Ivan Boesky, Dennis B.
Levine, Martin Siegal and the rest of the crowd on
In the summer of 1986, when stories comparing the
frenzy of greed in this decade with that of the 1920s
first began to appear, the First National Bank of
Oklahoma failed. I had a MasterCard with them.
The bank I owed $1,987.66 to went broke before I
They were taken over by First Interstate Bank. Now
I have two MasterCards from First Interstate.
Since then two more banks I had credit cards with
have been taken over by other banks to prevent them
Yes, I was once — literally, once — a re-
spectable working man.
I got my first full-time job when I was
thirty, in 1981. Prior to that, I had had
numerous menial, minimum-wage jobs,
and I had taught part-time at ten colleges
in New York City. Once I taught seven
courses at four colleges in one semester,
spending fifteen hours a week grading
papers on the subway. Then I got sick
and couldn't work the next term. I had
no health insurance because my jobs
were part-time, and I couldn't get un-
employment insurance because Truro
still owed me money from a previous
term; although I hadn't been rehired, I
was still considered to be working for
In 1981 I moved to Florida and
became a full-time, if temporary English
instructor at a community college. I had
to teach fifteen hours a week, thirty-nine
weeks a year. I taught composition and
remedial writing to twelve sections of
twenty-eight students each.
The Florida legislature mandated that
I keep fifteen office hours a week in
addition to my teaching hours. They
also required my students to write 6,000
words each semester. Our department
chairman told us to get a clear and
accurate word count on each paper,
because eventually the state would get
around to auditing us.
Thus, I had to grade 6,000 words for
each of 140 students during the year, or
140 five-hundred word themes weekly,
at five minutes per paper... well, you can
figure it out.
In 1981, my annual gross salary was
I prefer living on credit.
I was able, by virtue of being a
full-time employee, to get my first Visa
from the First National Bank of Atlanta
with a $700 credit line. Now I have a
$3,000 credit line from them, or rather
from the First Atlanta Bank (Delaware),
N.A., the new owner of my debt.
Several dozen Visas and Master-
Cards later, I've learned a lot about the
banking business. Every month I go to
-^ SAY 80VS AND GIRLS, WHV OONT YOU LET I^
I SOCK YOU EACH WITH A**50.000 DEBT AT BIRTH.
A SERIOUSLY THREATENED ENUIRONMENT AND T HE
PALL OF 25000 NUCLEAR WEAPONS HANGING OVER
YOUR HEADS,.. ALL IN THE NAME OF SHORT TERM
ECONOMIC GAIN AND THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES
ARGUMENT OF SAFETY IN THE ATOMIC A6E.
CAN WE KEEP]
UNCLE SAM TALKS TOUGH WITH TODAYS TEENS.
the main library in whatever city I'm
living in and read the month's copies of
"American Banker'', a daily paper put out
by the American Bankers Association.
A few years ago, at a college friend's
wedding, I was seated with the singles
and was talking to a guy who was
counsel to the House Banking Commit-
tee. In the middle of our conversation,
he stopped and said, "I thought Mark
and Amy said you were a writer."
"I am a writer," I told him.
"You talk like a banking insider," he
You can be both, I've discovered.
I know about the FDIC, the FOMC,
the FSLIC, the FHLBB, the Office of
the Comptroller of the Currency, non-
bank banks, MMDAs and jumbo CDs.
I know lots about the float. I have
several accounts at out-of-state banks,
such as Citibank (South Dakota), N.A.;
Chase Manhattan Bank U.S.A. in Del-
aware; Zions First National Bank in Salt
Lake City; and Virginia Beach Federal
Savings and Loan (which is not a bank,
of course, but it really doesn't matter).
I write checks to myself for thousands
of dollars and mail them to an out-of-
state bank for deposit. For example, I
write myself a $2,500 check on my
Chase Manhattan money market de-
posit account and mail it for deposit to
my Zions money market account. At the
same time I make out a check for the
same amount on the Utah account and
mail it to Delaware. For three days —
because of the float — Fm credited with
the $5,000 in both accounts. And I earn
top interest on it.
PROCESSED WORLD 23
This isn't quite like kiting cliecks,
which is what E.F. Hutton did. They
got a slap on the wrist from the federal
government; at the time E.F. Hutton's
chairman of the board was the brother-
in-law of the Vice President of the
United States. E.F. Hutton, of course,
disappeared in the wake of Black Mon-
"But it's not YOUR money," Linda
and Jerry and Mark and Amy tell me.
None of the banks know that.
My favorite activity here in Florida is
to go to the Publix Supermarket armed
with a dozen credit cards. Not only does
their automatic teller machine. Presto,
give you directions in a pleasant female
voice, but it hooks up to different
A.T.M. networks at which my cards are
valid: Honor, Cirrus, American Ex-
press, The Exchange, Discover, Choice,
Metroteller, Star. I take out card after
card and get the maximum advances
Once I took out $2,000 in cash.
It looked like my money.
When I brought it to the bank they
took it like it was my money.
They gave me a deposit slip that said
it was my money.
It WAS my money.
Okay, maybe today it's not my mon-
ey, but nothing is permanent. I've never
had a permanent, full-time job. Even
when I was full-time at the community
college for three years, I was always a
temporary employee. When I quit, in
1984, I was making $15,560.94 annual-
ly. I have more than that in my
CitiBank (South Dakota) High Interest
Checking Account right now.
All the adjunct jobs I had at a dozen
colleges were temporary. Sometimes
they were so temporary I got fired after
the first week of class, when some
tenured professor decided he didn't feel
like coming in three days a week, say,
and wanted to teach on Tuesdays and
Once I got hired after the term had
been in progress for a week or two.
They could not guarantee employ-
ment for the next term, especially over
the summer, but they would give you a
letter saying you were reasonably sure
of employment if registration was suffi-
cient—that was another way they keep
you from collecting unemployment
Because a lot of morons who go to
college and take remedial English in the
fall don't come back in the spring,
someone always has to be let go. Now
I always volunteer. "Nonreappoint-
ment," they call it. I get an of-
ficial letter in December that says I
won't be back next term no matter what.
PROCESSED WORLD 23
Then I CAN collect unemployment
Since 1984, I've spent a total of 108
weeks collecting unemployment bene-
fits. Nice work if you can't get it.
I can live in New York or Washington
in the fall and teach at three or four
colleges part-time. They always need
people for remedial writing or composi-
tion now. Most of the people who
started with me, back in 1975, are now
out of the adjunct business. People like
Jerry, who have become systems ana-
lysts earn half of what I tell credit card
applications I make as a Director Of
Training -about $50,000.
But in New York and Washington the
colleges pay well by the hour, almost
$40 now, and if you teach remedial ihey
usually give you four hours' pay for
three hours' work, because nobody
wants to teach remedial. The difference
between "a" and "an" and "and" is
My department chairmen in New
York and Washington lay me ofl after
the fall semester, so in January I head
for Florida to escape the winter. In May
I head back up North again.
In the north over the last few years,
I've lived in a lot of places. You'd be
surprised how many Yuppies need to
rent out their living room sofa beds. An
old college friend on the Upper West
Side lives mostly with her boyfriend, but
we split the rent, and she doesn't mind if
I stay in her bedroom when she's not
there. I apartment-sit when people get
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jobs out o; town directing a play, or
teaching or whatever.
In Washington I've stayed at my
cousin's apartment near DuPont Circle.
He works for the FDIC and is out of
town a lot dealing with failed banks. In
Florida, you can always get a cheap
furnished place for the winter season.
They've overbuilt, and the condo mar-
ket is glutted.
I don't own a stick of furniture. Since
1984 Fve never lived in a room where
my suitcases (two) weren't out, ready to
So don't tell me anything is perma-
Don't tell the crazy homeless people
who make the Upper West Side an open
mental ward. Don't tell my friends who
got AIDS. Don't tell the Chairmen of
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation,
or the President of the New York Stock
Fve seen Yuppies wearing a T-shirt
that says WHOEVER HAS THE
MOST MONEY WHEN HE DIES,
I disagree. To me, whoever OWES
the most money, wins.
I intend to die a winner.
The losers: Citibank, Sears, First
Interstate, First Adanta, Chemical
Bank, Mellon Bank, Bank One and the
Revolving credit is like magic.
When you pay what you owe, you can
borrow it again.
I always pay every credit card bill.
Sometimes I overpay them. That's what
I did with my American Express Card,
which isn't a credit card, of course, but a
charge card you must pay off in full
every month. I always paid more thai,
was due, which is how I got a gold
American Express card with a $5,000
line and two Optima Cards with a
combined credit line of $15,000. I
showed I had good character.
Fve seen my credit reports from
TRW, CBI, and TransUnion, and they
have no negative information on me,
although I am listed as the Director of
Training with Information in Motion,
Inc. I've never been even thirty days late
with a payment. Actually, if you're one
day late on a Visa bill, they count it as
thirty days with the credit bureaus.
Of course, it's not all magic. Not all
my money comes from cash advances
and credit cards. I do keep teaching, I
collect unemployment benefits, and oc-
casionally I sell an article or short story.
I didn't do too badly in the great bull
market of the '80s by specializing in
regional bank stocks. With nationwide
interstate banking just around the cor-
ner, there are mergers and takeovers
like crazy, and banks are paying three
and four times the book value of other
It's their money, right?
Until it's mine.
It did shock me when I caught this
cable TV get-rich show featuring a guy
who billed himself as The Credit Card
He was doing just what I was doing,
only he said he was buying houses for no
money down and investing in art and
I figured that for a sucker of an
English teacher, I wasn't so dumb to
stumble on this by myself. I didn't have
to pay the $299 to get the books and
tapes for The Credit Card Millionaire
The Credit Card Millionaire was a
Vietnam veteran and high school drop-
Unlike him, though, I have contempt
P. MORALES & D. HAYES
for money. I see it's not real. I have
$60,000 in the bank now — maybe
$70,000 at this very moment —
according to the banks, because I'm
playing the float. My friends are half-
right when they say the money really
The money isn't real at all. But it
works. Money is now not really a
medium of exchange or a store of value
or any of the other things you learn
about in economics courses.
Money is just information that you
That's why one of my community
college night students came in late one
evening and said it was because he'd
"lost" a million dollars in the computer.
And that's why Fm Director of Train-
ing for Information in Motion, Inc.
I didn't intend to live like this.
I won't tell you about the miserable
minimum wage jobs I had or all the little
humiliations I faced; everyone has his or
her own story. My story is your story, if
you were born in certain years and think
a certain way. The history is familiar:
1968 Gene McCarthy & Chicago; 1969
Woodstock; 1970 Cambodia & Kent
State & "People's U" & the Tac Squad;
1971 and John Mitchell's sweeping
Washington arrests; 1972 Miami as a
alternate delegate for McGovern; 1973
Watergate and graduation into a world
in which all the rules had changed.
I knew it would be hard to get
through the Eighties, so I changed some
rules myself. But did it matter? Did I
really hurt anyone or anything in the
long run? In the 1990s— "our decade,"
as Rick called it — will anyone care?
And keep those minimum payments
by Gary Richardson
PROCESSED WORLD 23
CREDIT CARD GULAG
Credit cards and collections in America
// is next to impossible to become as indifferent or brutal as
the system in which one is caught. . .After a day thus spent, the
working-man has one complaint which is meaningless to anyone
who has never experienced this condition: I thought the day
would never end.
- Simone Weil, "Factory Work" Essay, 1936
I work for America's corporate financial thought
police. I use an alias; you will never know my name.
When you miss payments on your Mastercard or Visa,
I send you letters. I am the one who calls you at home
or at your work. I am the one who decides to accept
arrangements for payment, to refer your account to a
collections agency, or to sue you. I can set in motion
an investigation which could result in your arrest. My
words and actions carry the weight of an immense and
faceless bureaucracy. What I do can affect your
employment, your ability to purchase a home or an
automobile, to borrow money or rent an apartment,
for up to ten years.
I have worked in the collections area of a major
bank's credit-card division for several years. How I
found myself there is a story in itself: suffice to say I
am trying, very hard, to get out. As a consumer-
survivalist and as a worker, I want to pass on
something of what I've learned — part observation, part
cautionary tale. In order to survive financially in the
America of the 1990's and beyond, you need to
understand how the credit card system works. Come
with me into the Ministry of Truth for a little tour;
but, please leave your ethical outrage at the door.
To finance growth in an increasingly competitive
marketplace, America's corporate banks continue to
rely on credit cards as the most lucrative aspect of their
business portfolios. With the deregulation of banking
in the early 1990's, the hunt for new customers will
lead to more unsecured lines of credit being offered to
consumers, causing them to juggle even more debt.
Surviving in America's mainstream in the last
quarter of the Twentieth Century proves the idea that
access to credit is more than a privilege. It is a
necessity. We live in a consumer society, whose raison
d'etre is the purchase of goods and services. This
society is totailly dependent on the lobotomizing dazzle
of marketing to convince us that we should want to go
into debt. A culture doesn't produce such sardonic
quips as: "You are what you owe"; "When the going
gets tough, the tough go shopping"; "He who dies with
PROCESSED WORLD 23
the most toys wins"; or, "Can I pay for my Visa with
my Mastercard?", without being aware of the symbio-
sis between reaching for the brass ring of the American
Dream, and the price of admission to stay seated on
the consumer merry-go-round.
To remain competitive in the credit-card market
and make the issuing of plastic profitable banks must
limit the losses they suffer through default, fraud and
bankruptcy. Fraud is taken seriously, not only from
the standpoint of criminality, but because all charges
proven as fraudulent can be decleired a business loss
and deducted as a write-off on the corporate taxes.
Litde can be done about bankruptcies. The number of
personal bankruptcies increases each year. The largest
problem for banks is delinquent credit-card payment.
The bank's only answer to that problem is the
In a windowless office occupying the entire floor of a
building near a major metropolitan area, separated by
beige-colored dividers, some two hundred people sit
down to work each morning at eight a.m. (seven a.m.
if they are calling to the east coast). With a headset
plugged into one ear, hunched forward to stare at a
CRT, we begin another day of calling people for
payment; within five minutes, the noise from scores of
conversations rises to just below a dull roar and
remains there for the rest of the day. I must process
over one hundred accounts per day. My work is
monitored on a daily basis — so many accounts per hour.
Of these accounts, I must contact a minimum of three
out of every ten people. If I fall below any production
level, consistendy, I will be fired.
Any collections environment for a bank is an image
out of Fritz Lang's Metropolis: a dull, focused place
where windows might as well be walls, and routine
tasks are performed over and over, day upon day until
the weeks begin to blur. The collectors are effectively
chained by their production requirements to their
CRTs for seven-and-a-half hours a day, with time off
(who can truly rest in the place where they do a job
they dislike?) for lunch or a short break. The only
variation in their routine lies in the calls they
make— each one different, every conversation a glimpse
into a life beset with problems not unlike our own.
That contact should, ideally, end by resolving the debt
in the banks' favor. The bottom line of the whole
deadening experience is: get the money.
That resolution could be handled in a
businesslike manner. More often than
not talking to people in debt becomes a
contest of wills. The nature of collec-
tions work is a parent-and-child con-
frontation; the debtor plays the part of
the guilty youngster and the collector
plays the part of superego. Collections
departments actively seek persons who
are adept at this kind of manipulation.
Psychologically Americans tie their
money directly to their self-esteem and
collectors know it. Shame is the greatest
weapon in the collector's verbal arsenal.
The same people who are gifted at
manipulation (usually referred to as
"negotiation skills") often use their posi-
tions to vent their own self-loathing and
anger on the people they contact. They
badger, taunt and even humiliate people
into paying their debts. They frighten
debtors with the specter of litigation and
bankruptcy. All this is reinforced
through the basic attitudes of other
collectors — an "us-versus them" outlook.
The job is deadly boring and incredibly
stressful. The eye of your manager is
never far from your shoulder (his job,
too, depends on your performance). As
a result of these conditions, the way
people handle money is equated with a
Having depersonalized debtors, it's a
simple thing to begin screaming at
them. After a long and sarcastic shout-
ing match, a collector near my cubicle
slammed his phone down and then sat
back with a huge grin. "Boy do I feel
better," he bubbled. "I think I'll sue this
bitch." Customers who call to complain,
asking for a supervisor, may end up in a
second confrontation with the same
collector, or may talk to another collec-
tor who declares herself or himself to be
a supervisor. Managers turn a blind eye
to this. Their own time is consumed by
projects and paper work and they would
rather not have to soothe an irate caller
for half an hour. Even if the angry
customer manages to reach a supervi-
sor, the collector will not be fired or
even reprimanded. Business, after all, is
The truth is very few people go into
debt with the idea of taking the banks to
the cleaners. They all seem to be seeking
a better life — which in this culture is
achieved through consumer spending.
They have simply overspent themselves
or suffered a sudden misfortune — loss of
a job, a second income, injury, illness, a
divorce or tax problems. Next to "I am
doing the best I can," the phrase I have
heard the most often is, "I didn't plan for
this to happen, you know."
To the collector this is useful infor-
mation, but it makes no difference. I
listened to one woman berating a man
for ten minutes demanding to know why
he couldn't pay (it was hard not to hear
her, as she was shouting into her
phone). She slammed her receiver into
its cradle after telling the man she would
search for any assets he might own and
recommend that our bank sue him. The
man called back asking to complain to a
supervisor. I took the call. We spoke for
twenty minutes. I ended by apologizing
for the bank and, also, as a human
being. The man had AIDS and was
about to be hospitalized. I checked the
account several months ago and found
he had died. His account was marked
"Deceased" and placed in the bank's Net
Credit Loss file.
In addition to basic attitudes toward
money and self- worth, the collections
business reinforces class, racial and
sexucd biases. "Check this out," a collec-
tor said to me, waving a hand at the
PROCESSED WORLD 23
account on his CRT screen. "Another
rude Chicago nigger and he owes us six
thousand. Living over his head, proba-
bly doing crack." This same "nigger"
was a neurosurgeon going through a
divorce. There are few black or hispanic
collectors in our office. However, even
they talk about their own racial groups,
if they are debtors, as lazy or trying to
get something for nothing. Women who
work as collectors are frequently un-
sympathetic to their debtor sisters.
A collections department is organized
to handle a bank's receivables (credit
cards from zero days past due through
six or more months gone). There are
also specialty areas to handle accounts
still valid and over their credit limit,
bankruptcies, deceased, numerous bad
checks, over-seas accounts and those
marked for special handling (the ac-
counts of wealthy or famous persons or
The accounts are held in the bank's
computer system. These accounts can
be accessed by collectors regardless of
their status. Friends? Enemies? Par-
ents? If they have the bank's plastic,
they're in the system along with their
addresses, telephone numbers, social
security numbers and other informa-
What follows is the general sequence
Tuesday, 8:57 am
I've consulted my files . . .the usual suspects
£ to be rounded up for debtor's prison. Just
< anottier day on the job, here in the
'^ fluorescent desert.
of collections action as accounts sink
towards write-off which occurs when an
account becomes seven months past
due. The account is added to the Net
Credit Loss column at seven months
past due. All collection activity is de-
signed to prevent as many accounts as
possible from reaching this stage.
From one to two months past due.
you will receive an automatic notice
with your bill that you are delinquent
— a friendly reminder. At two months
past due, you will receive a call, asking
if you had overlooked the payment.
At three months, the account is
reported delinquent to TRW, CBI and
Chilton's — the three major credit bu-
reaus in the United States. At four
months past due, you begin receiving
messages at your home or office, dun-
ning letters every two weeks and calls
every three or four days. The tone here
is darker. There is talk of litigation,
wage garnishment or levy. Attachment
of assets is suggested.
Five months past due is more of the
same. Here you can expect to meet the
borderline disfunctionals, the shouters
and the growlers whose lives and stom-
achs are wastelands corroded with bad
coffee and bile.
At six months past due, most collec-
tors (in order to keep the account from
being written off) will try to reason with
you. Suddenly, their attitude may
change from Freddy Krugger to your
favorite uncle. However, if you make an
arrangement with Uncle and break it,
Freddy will return. The talk of "lawsuit"
and "collection agency" are now quite
real. If the account writes off, the bank
doesn't forget it, or you. It is assigned to
A Short History of Credit Cards
Credit cards were first offered by
banks in 1963. At the time, credit
was a radical idea — allowing a cus-
tomer to charge a purchase, with the
merchant reimbursed by the bank.
When the idea seemed tested, the
American Banker's Association
(known simply as "The Associa-
tion") founded Visa and MasterCard
as trademarked names, and devel-
oped centrahzed operations for vali-
dation and purchase authorization.
ABA member banks could issue cre-
dit cards through the association,
but at a cost: banks must put up
what amoimts to a surety bond to
cover the cost of carrying the new
credit cards in their computers and
for other support services. There is
also a fee for use of a trademark
name, the use of which has to be
approved by the ABA. These factors
effectively keep many smaller banks
out of the credit card game.
In the mid-1970's, New York-
based Citibank began to make major
offerings of credit cards to custom-
ers on a scale that made its competi-
tors laugh. The risks involved in
PROCESSED WORLD 23
what amounted to a credit giveaway
were large; Citibank appeared to be
violating the basic tenet of the bank-
ing industry: You do not make loans
without guaranteed repayment. Ci-
tibank was relying on its marketing
division, which (like any major bank
today) develops or purchases lists of
potential customers from such eso-
teric sources as the subscription Usts
of Esquire, Forbes or Reader's Di-
gest. Citibank's competitors expect-
ed them to to fall on their faces and
take losses commensurate with what
was seen as an unacceptable risk.
The New York bank, however, did
not stumble. Its gamble paid off very
well. Other banks began trying to
catch up, to gain their share of the
consumer market, and the great
Credit Card Sweepstakes was born.
The idea, once heretical, is now
gospel. The greater the number of
credit cards you offer, the greater
the potential for profit from the
interest on that mass of floating
debt. One industry source estimates
that Citibank (the leader in the
bankcard industry) has issued over
twelve billion dollars worth of plas-
tic credit. Even if customers have
only spent ten billion of that availa-
ble credit, at 19.a annual interest
that means a gross profit of nearly
two billion dollars a year. As dere-
gulation approaches, the battle
vdthin the corporate financial com-
munity for larger "market shares"
of the credit card industry will
The dark side of this picture is the
nature of the loans being offered.
They are imsecured. If a customer
decides to default, the banks cannot
recoup some of their losses through
repossession or forced sale as they
can with auto or real estate loans.
America's banks may have as much
as 150 to 200 million dollars in
imsecured debt floating on plastic
with more planned in the future. A
major recession could result in
himdreds of thousands of defaulting
credit card holders. The Stock Ex-
change of the late 1920's collapsed
due to speculative buying, "on the
margin," without adequate capital
to pay for what was purchased, and
without investor safeguards... very
much like buying with a credit card,
by HoroJd Tuttie
"Frankly, Mrs. Pilkins, it'll be a lot easier for you to pay the
$27,300 telephone bill than it will for us to find the mistake."
the recovery area and the pressure
becomes even worse.
The numbers game and the willing-
ness of banks to give credit cards does
work in your favor as long as you're
current in your payments. But, how do
you get a credit card, or more than one,
in the first place? The chances are good
that by doing nothing the banks will
come to you. In your mailbox you may
find a letter from Chase Manhattan
Bank, or Citibank, or American Ex-
press with the words "pre-approved"
sprinkled through it. Fill out the appli-
cation and send it in. If you've lived at
the same address for three years or
more, worked at the same job for at least
two years or more, and can claim an
income of $20,000.00 or more, you will
probably receive a card within three
weeks of returning the application.
Solicitations by mail are, along with
applications by customers, the prime
method to generate new cardholders. As
mentioned earlier, how a bank's mar-
keting department determines who to
solicit is anything from esoteric to
harebrained. Occasionally, banks will
perform a test solicitation by sending
pre-approved applications to everyone
in a specific zip code who has lived there
at least one year. Several banks targeted
the baby-boomer or yuppie market for
solicitation in the early to mid-1980's.
Most of these new customers liked
having credit and overextended them-
selves in droves.
From my own experience, if you C2in
get along with no credit cards, or one
with a small credit line, do it. The
industry that created the idea of plastic,
and will foster its growth into the next
century, is dependent upon our greed as
much as its own. The siren's song of the
American Dream is, for most of us, a
greedy tune played on the calliope of a
merry-go-round. You can get on, but is
it worth the cost to ride?
by Harold Tattle
Truth or Consequences
A word of caution: using fraudu-
lent information to secure lines of
credit is a crime. If you fudge a bit
on an application for a Visa with a
$1,200 credit line, even if the bank
discovered it, the likelihood you
would be prosecuted is akin to the
college of cardinals electing a Jew-
ish pope. However, if you use false
information on multiple accounts
with different banks and are found
out, if and when the accounts fall
delinquent, you are in serious hot
water. Even then, if the total amount
you owe on all the accounts is ten
thousand dollars or less, the banks'
security and fraud divisions may ask
you to sign a statement admitting
your actions and promising to pay
the money back — generally on the
same terms as if the accounts had
never fallen delinquent.
If you owe $25,000 or more, the
chances of prosecution are good —
and not by the banks. As of January
1, 1988, all banks must report any
and all fraud charges to the FBI,
Secret Service and Treasury De-
partment as a method of keeping
banks accountable for the fraud
charges they will latter declare as
business losses. I have handled sev-
eral cases in the bank where, when
informed of high dollar amount
fraudulent applications the U.S. At-
torney's office in my area had crimi-
nal complaints sworn against the
individuals involved. Two went to
prison; another was placed on proba-
— H. Tuttle
GRAPHIC BY MARK BEEBE
PROCESSED WORLD 23
^» >»r ! « ■ > ^X ^■<*
OUR AMERICAN ECONOMIC SYSTEM
by Bruce Jacobson
Here's how I spent my formative years.
I studied economics. Directly
from college to an Ivy League M.B.A.
A precocious twenty-two year old
trained to think like the Chairman.
I assessed my strategic position:
grew a mustache and got married.
Figured employers would think I was
And they did. And I worked
to fill the vacancy within
sixty-plus hours per week
for five consecutive years.
I gained and I lost.
I gained: weight
to fill the vacancy within
ballooned up to two hundred pounds
until I was almost as fat as
He took a liking to me.
My wife complained I wasn't home much
to fill the vacancy within
she would run to the
nearest upscale department store
buying things I couldn't afford:
phone calls to her mother.
who had inherited
two point three million dollars
from a chain of movie houses in Phoenix.
Boarding schools in europe, a home in
Hillsborough and a condo in Palm Springs.
My father-in-law lived there
with a big heart and clogged arteries.
At family dinners, my mother-in-law
held court, and made pronouncements.
Like when she announced that
millionaires were real men.
My father-in-law was silent,
my wife was surprised
at how little salary I made. She said
you don't even make fifty thousand.
With each department store bill
I pitched a fit. Until finally
to fill the vacancy within
I took her credit cards away.
She cried alligator tears
then for a month or so everything seemed
The stores were letting her spend anyhow.
My boss noticed I seemed a little tense
so he sent my wife and I to
an all-expenses-paid weekend at Caesar's
Las Vegas. He felt good
about solving my problem, so good
that I received a promotion.
I gained and I lost. I became
Vice President at one of
America's major economic think-tanks.
Began traveling all around the world.
I was on a D.C.-Philly turnaround when
my mother-in-law came to town
and took my wife away. But
the new job was quite prestigious.
I made predictions on
the nation's most critical economic issues.
Corporations took them seriously because
they paid thousands of dollars.
I was 26 years old and
had achieved a truly respectable
Found love and affection at
the candy counter of 7-11.
One day on the plane from Paris
a beautiful French stewardess
took me to her hotel. When I
took off my clothes
I couldn't see over my
wallet. A few days later
I was walking down a street
in a strange city. Something like
Cleveland or Houston or Atlanta
and burst into spontaneous tears.
Later, that day, in a meeting
some asshole said something
and on an impulse of truth like when
anger becomes faith
I walked into my boss's office
I gained and I lost.
My appetite grew healthy
for sex. But I lost thousands of
hours of unpaid overtime.
Yesterday I saw a headline
in the business page.
One of my predictions
came true. Income, expenses, decline. Today
I write poems and live with a stripper
the daughter of an economist.
Her happy little nipples create more income
than I ever will.
Last night I woke up in a sweat.
I dreamed that the system went on without me
I dreamed that it mattered.
PROCESSED WORLD 23
' ^J^*X>J' J>»»
N UT I! E ,^ L () I I) E
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where the New Age began . . .
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Its an Eyes-R-Us device so you
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Were the only ones that feature oi
RF feed direct to local police stations,
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"// hardly matters what I buy, I just get a kick out of buying.
It's like that first whiff of cocaine. It's euphoric and I just get
higher and higher as I buy. "
— Silicon Valley shopper
If conspicuous consumption is a distinguishing trait
of industrializing societies, compulsive shopping is a
still-evolving mutant strain today. The frenzied con-
sumer purchase of the 1980s proceeds on borrowed
funds and in blissful ignorance of need. In Silicon
Valley, shopping resembles a mass therapy for the
ennui of work-centered lives shorn of spontaneity and
saturated with stress, a recoil from work's discontents
as powerful as the attraction to work itself.
Compulsive shopping is not peculiar to Silicon
Valley although it was here that marketing developed
the most widely used modern advertising techniques.
It is also here that the divorce of purchase from need
unfolds as rapidly as anywhere else. "Shop Till You
Drop," the theme of a Silicon Valley service that buses
patrons from workplace parking lots to shopping
outlets, suggests both the allure and the aimlessness of
shopping. In a grotesque parody of George Romero's
Dawn of the Dead, we wander through malls, purchasing
on credit nothing in particular.
Shopping has become a fling from the discipline of
daily time-management strategies that rule work,
commuting and most other activities. For many,
shopping makes the discipline endurable. "Just the
thought of shopping makes me feel better," proclaims
the modern working mother. The shopping oppor-
tunity is not always a cheap or an effective escape, but
it is certainly a ready one. America now looks to it
(more frequently than to vacation travel) for a new and
flirtatious experience beyond the stunted sociality and
sameness of its sprawled habitats. But compulsive
consumption caters to fleeting urges that no commodi-
ty can satisfy for long. In this, shopping is assigned a
mission from which it cannot help but return empty-
The shopper's riotous affairs with impulse and credit
have become commonplace. When researchers asked
ILWSTHATION BY MARCE HALL
over 34,000 mall shoppers their primary reason for a
visit, only 25 percent responded that they had come to
shop for a specific item. Other studies suggest that half
or more of all hardware and grocery items are
purchased on "impulse." Whim and novelty, not
replacement of broken appliances, now guide most
Like the imagery advertising so deftly attaches to
fashion commodities, the wherewithal for the shopping
expedition is borrowed. An explosion of consumer
credit has heated up the retail economy and placed it
on precarious footing. In 1988, with personal savings
at all-time lows, nonmortgage debt approaches $600
biflion, up five times from that of 1960. With the force
of Pavlovian association, one study observes, people
are willing to pay far more for commodities when they
see a picture of a credit card near a cash register.
Advances in electronic funds transfers, making pos-
sible instant credit approval and extension, have taken
the governor off the circulation of consumer credit.
The same banks that are overextended in Mexico
and South America now court the American consum-
er. Banks derive upwards of 30 percent of their total
profits from their credit card divisions, and at interest
rates that our grandparents would consider usurious.
Roughly 60 percent of credit card holders use them as
informal, openended, and often spontaneous loans. As
shoppers sink into debt, they are rewarded with fresh
lines of credit. The least examined and perhaps most
profound effect of credit card debt is the tightening of
ties to one or more jobs (which secures the isolation,
stress, and time "crunch" that the new shopping caters
As the widening channels of credit expand venues
for consumption, the shopping center adds conve-
nience: one-stop shopping for those on time-starved
Through a delicate web of investments, finance
capital has made shopping easy on a scale and in
densities that have no parallel in the annals of
merchandising. Regional malls, in search of higher
shopper densities, add retail outlets exponentially.
Silicon Valley malls expand by up to 60 stores at a
time. Shopping center proprietors "position" their
retail outlet mix in wars of patronage. Mall mergers
PROCESSED WORLD 23
Through this frenzied retail invest-
ment, the consumer marketplace articu-
lates itself in complex, often senseless
segmentation. Consumers can choose
bargain club shopping of the warehouse
outlet, the nostalgic shopping of the flea
market, the haute shopping of the bou-
tiques, and everything in between — in-
cluding a hierarchy of special label shops
and designer ministores-within-stores.
Likewise, shopping diversifies its appeal
by privatizing family consumption pat-
terns. In contrast to the practical family
shopping of frugal spouses in the 1950's,
women and men alike, as well as teenage
girls and boys, shop for and by them-
selves more than ever before.
More than any other public place, the
closed space of the privately owned mall
is where America congregates. By 1987,
over 70 percent of adults were visiting a
regional mall weekly, a frequency that
was surpassed in Silicon Valley, where
shopping density at some malls is nearly
50 percent higher than the national
Since so many of the habitats lack a
town center, a village square, or a
commons, it is hardly surprising that
people regularly visit malls. The shop-
ping center is the new commons. With
the deployment of malls throughout
urban, suburban, and rural landscapes,
however, America's municipal squares
and public footpaths recede. Transmo-
grified into a fantasy preserve of com-
modities where the homeless, opposi-
tional politics, and unconventional be-
haviors are checked by armed security
at the door, the mall has brought civil
society a long way toward incorporation
within the meta-circuitry of capital.
Shopping's urgency is transposed into
a disturbing priority in the condensed
schedules of the 1980s. Each week,
adults average six hours of shopping, far
more than the 40 minutes spent playing
with children or the hour spent garden-
ing or reading books. Teens spend more
time at malls than anywhere else except
school and home and are probably
envied for it: what some working wom-
en want even more than free time
during the day is longer shopping hours,
a survey suggests.
Before, after, or between work, peo-
ple rush to transact purchases: some
shop via catalog, and phone in their
mail orders from their workstatir -s.
During work, they chat about or pri-
vately plan fresh purchases. ("For Sale"
items clog the electronic mail networks
at Silicon Valley corporations.) Return-
ing home, credit-bound shoppers, deep
in debt but not yet delinquent in their
monthly payments, receive unsolicited,
preapproved credit cards through the
mail. In 1988, the Wall Street Journal
proclaimed, "Shoppers' behavior has
been a major driving force for the
economy and has made shopping, argu-
ably, the nation's favorite pastime next
Whatever draws people to shopping
centers has less and less to do with
fulfilling conventional needs. University
studies have begun to isolate the com-
pulsive shopper's symptoms. One study
found that one in three shoppers said
they regularly experience an irresistible
compulsion to buy. In another, four out
of ten shoppers admitted that their
closets were filled with unopened items.
By the mid-1980s, a Silicon Valley
credit counseling agency was flooded
with calls from "overspenders" tending
off bankruptcy. Alarmed and bewil-
dered, the nation's most influential bus-
iness journal constructed this national
profile of the compulsive shopping
"They don't really need what they are
shopping for. Often they don't even
know what they're after. Some buy
things they never wear or rarely use;
many buy and then return what they
bought, then buy again and return
The report lists six very private
motivations for shopping. Most, in-
cluding "alleviating loneliness," "dispel-
ling boredom," "shopping as an escape,"
"fantasy fulfillment," and "relieving de-
pression," are borrowed wholesale from
the vocabulary of psychotherapy.
Unavoidably, the experts began to
address the compulsive shopper. Do we
shop because we need, or do we now
simply need to shop? According to a
marketing professor whose research
identified the most avid shoppers as the
single, the widowed, and the divorced,
"Shopping appears to be a substitute for
a relationship." Silicon Valley credit
counselors suggest that shopping has
become a path to instant gratification
made irresistible by widespread despair
and loneliness. Shopping, according to a
psychologist and president of a New
York consulting firm, "is a lot more than
simply providing for necessary things. It
is obviously fulfilling many needs — a lot
of people don't like to confess that."
A Berkeley "wellness" newsletter, in
an article entitled "Mall Mania," advises
"the compulsive shopper" to lock up
credit cards, maintain a purchase "dia-
ry," and "analyze the motives of com-
pulsive shopping." The doses of therapy
prescribed escalate: "If unhappiness is
the cause [of compulsive shopping]. . .a
support group may help." But "if self-
help doesn't work, the shopper... should
The bill has come in for the flat new
suburban culture of Silicon Valley in the
1980s — the homogeneous isolation of
ON THE TOWN V^ IT
SAN[)y AND NIFPEK
PROCESSED WORLD 23
the ranch style subdivision, the condo-
minium theme park, amd the landscaped
apartment complex. Hotly pursued for
their safety or reclusion, these post-
urban habitats until recently secured a
slight reduction in street crime com-
pared to that of city-block neighbor-
hoods. But drug dependencies, divorc-
es, and time spent alone all rise alarm-
ingly in Silicon Valley, suggesting a
lonely and unwholesome collective ex-
istence. This, along with our unflin-
ching dedication to stressful work, has
charged shopping with a special excite-
ment and erotic purpose in daily life, a
purpose that has swerved sharply onto
the soft shoulder of values and life-
The New Channels
Shopping has become an impulsive
journey into a new mondo bizarro of
marketing fantasy that plays upon an
inner realm of modern desires. A mar-
keting paradigm — "psychographics" — has
emerged to identify and help cultivate
new consumer vulnerabilities. Its mis-
sion: to resupply the marketing intellect
with modern channels.
In the 1980s, Silicon Valley's own
Stanford Research Institute (SRI) In-
ternational pioneered the most promi-
nent and probably widely used psycho-
graphics system, the Values and Life-
styles program (VALS). Silicon Valley
was a likely breeding ground for psy-
chographics theory. Without stable
families or workplaces, consumption
"patterns" for its many social groups
lacked demographic consistency, be-
came less reliable and hence — for ad-
vertising campaigns — less predictable.
This, and the chaos of overdevelopment
that defied residential zoning coherence,
upset marketing's traditional demogra-
phic tools, including assumptions about
the cohesiveness of social groups.
VALS attempts to characterize and
order social values, beliefs, fantasies and
dreams to better attach these to com-
modities through the medium of adver-
tising. This, however, requires coming
to terms with the identity crises that
contemporary culture poses for con-
sumers. VALS updates marketing's
abiding focus, a kind of sociology of
personal problems, by depicting the
fragile and complex sensibilities of the
1980s. To marketing, the new aliena-
tion appears as an array of daily emo-
tional problems caused by the collapse of
widely shared values ^and an accompa-
nying instability in every realm of life.
SRI International was on intimate
terms with the new alienation. A mod-
ern, multipurpose consultant to the
Pentagon, the medical industry, and
industrial management as well as ad-
vertising agencies, SRI published some
of the first monographs on post-modern
lifestyles. These included remarkably
candid accounts of the new alienation,
such as the following, published in 1979:
"alienation of the [U.S.] office worker is
expected to be a growing problem. [The
office of the future] may quite possibly
become a more impersonal place in
which to work... this suggests a potenti-
ally far more lonely existence for the
individual office worker."
The SRI reports and surveys chroni-
cled the fantasies and fears as well as
"higher needs" stirred and left unfulfilled
by society. A profound new consumer
wantonness was in the offing. VALS
articulated a paradigmatic shift within
the marketing community in order to
better explore the possibilities.
In the 1983 paperback introduction to
VALS, SRI's Arnold Mitchell renders a
composite snapshot of the compart-
ments of modern American culture. The
Nine American Lifestyles traverses the
spectrum of the fragmented American
character: Survivors, Sustainers, Be-
longers. Emulators, Achievers, Exper-
ientials, I-Am-Me's, as well as the
Socially Conscious. Atop a hierarchical
topology is the totally integrated indivi-
dual who overcomes fragmentation by
balancing "inner-directed" and "outer-
directed" traits and needs. (The fastest
growing inner-directed group constitut-
ed 20 percent of the national population
in 1980 and a much higher proportion
in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco
Area.) Equating "integration" with
"psychological maturity," Mitchell and
VALs set forth a marketing sociology
that treats consumers as an amalgam of
lifestyle constructs. SRI's VALs pro-
gram and psychographics have evolved
into a strategy to confront consumers
with emotional and "experiential" mate-
rial that is longed for but lacking in
For marketing, the VALS topology
has been both practical and insightful.
Since disintegration is the chief socio-
logical fact of life in places such as
Silicon Valley, it follows that commodi-
ties should adopt the iconography of
what is missing in consumers' lives,
PROCESSED WORLD 23
offering a path (consumption) to bal-
anced psychological life. VALS-based
psychographics also implicitly rejects a
popular sociological fraud of the era: the
much maligned "materialism" of the
cynical upscale professionals. Strictly
speaking, it is not materialism that drives
people to shop beyond their means and
needs. Shoppers aren't pausing to ra-
tionadly select useful goods, nor are they
"price-shopping." On the contrary, they
pursue the fantastic symbols offered by
commodities, and by consumption it-
self. From the technical sophistication of
a "dress watch," to the durability of
ballistics-grade travel luggage, to the
purity of the organically grown tomato,
people are shopping for qualities that
make them feel secure in an unstable
SRI was among the most persistent of
marketing researchers in evoking the
stuff of psychotherapy: experience and
emotion. By 1985, then-SRI researcher
James Ogilvy announced, "Advertisers
are recognizing that to consumers,
emotions are stronger than ideas;" and
that "in the information economy, one's
higher needs are satisfied through expe-
riences." Betraying a preference for
black-box behaviorism, Ogilvy articu-
lated a chilling construct: "The line
between a product and its image is
blurring. People look at products as if
they were mood-altering substances." In
other words, marketing could take ad-
vantage of and encourage a growing
separation between product and primi-
tively derived needs in favor of a higher
consumerism defined as: "anything you
can do to your mind with a product or
service." "Psychographics," as one ob-
server succinctly put it, "help businesses
position their products in the minds of
"Positioning" commonly involves ex-
plicit attempts to mollify social loneli-
ness. New modalities of ad copy speak to
outsiders, urging them to look into the
warmth and intimate society of casual
and carnal acquaintance. "Who are we?"
asks Esprit, the West Coast fashion
house, in a brochure pushing designer
denim for teenagers. "It doesn't matter
where you're from, what kind of job you
have, or what you believe in. There is a
common bond. You recognize it [your
bond, their denim] when you see it."
Among the outwardly bonded, howev-
er, there is plenty of room for inner,
individual statement. Esprit features
"three different washes and two kinds of
fabric, yielding a wide variety" of denim
that includes six separate bleach washes
made according to discrete "industrial
processes." The Esprit brochure itself
offers a distinct "feel" with a corrugated
soft brown cover. A competing design
PROCESSED WORLD 23
house features a thoroughly jean-clad
teenage couple sitting in a tire on a
street, gazing unassuredly in different
directions. The spare, "integrating^ jin-
gle: "Jordache . Basics... because the
world — isn't." Also frequently invoked
are the lifestyle icons and dramas that
evoke whatever is missing from the
consumer's real life but imagined desir-
able by marketing research: open roads
for high-performance cars, loving chU-
dren who don't drop out, contented and
cared-for elderly citizens.
From the high ground of psychogra-
phic perspective, less and less restrained
by sexual mores, the marketing mind
sees in contemporary American culture
a wide spectrum of longings and values
that advertising might reaffirm: from
family love and domestic stability to
fat- free gluttony and casual sex. Thus, a
semblance of sociological verite—a sil-
houette of the new alienation — often
emanates from ad copy. A journalist
discerns facets of that alienation in "the
new Madison Avenue sexuality":
"Its central characteristics are its in-
trospection and separation from social
context. Fathers, sons, and businessmen
have not disappeared from contempor-
ary advertising imagery, but they have
been supplemented by someone else: the
single male figure, existing in a sexually
charged social void with perfect. Nauti-
lus-chiseled contours. He exists alone,
his body a work of obvious labor in the
gym, his lifestyle apparently affluent,
but beyond that, unspecified." (Andrew
Sullivan, "Advertising Goes Soft-Core:
Today's Marketing Campaigns Peddle
Titillation with a Twist," reprinted from
New Republic in This World, a Sunday
supplement of the San Francisco Examiner,
3 April 1988.)
Utterly banal as popular culture,
shopping elicits private motivations that
run deep. If the fulfillment of "higher
needs," the prized "integration," is im-
possible to achieve in daily life, then at
least the emotional and experiential
semblance could be borrowed from
advertising's prefabricated self-imagery.
All that is required are new and frequent
VALS marks a more explicit and
certainly more forthright incorporation
of therapeutic technique into mass ad-
vertising. The new advertising helps
propel shopping into a dominant and,
for some, dominating, pastime; a cross-
over into a world of fantasy that is more
voraciously consumed than the com-
modities themselves. The human relief
spelled by shopping is profound but
- Dennis Hayes
TO- Unionized Stati
FROM-. Bored oi Trustees ^^^ ^^ ^^^^ ^ ^^^
Fust ot all we are alarmed by^e ^^^ ^^^ ^^^^.
• on reserve in the Ubrary.
nlacetolive. inerecuc ^ fmlv interested in vnse lu cr BJ's spacious
., tal, but .. soon a, «e <-* "J^^, ,„p,„,ee parto, ^-'J J^r,, „e,cb.
o„ lab^ous, -j'-'-^^^^Sw res..^- '» V?" ^^^^We toco.- ^^'^
Ha.^gJW-ec.*ocmpl j; ,,^HS»oW^^
„,behmdmpamlmg-l^ „^^^,^e produced lO^OW^^^j^^^delha.
out competitors, "» "°«° ,, be that stall? „ ^aUy caied
U>e country a. some ^m..>=u^^^, ____-
tathemeanbme.^.Gelto™" ^ „—— —
Most of the counterfeit memos reprinted in PW are
written in isolation, in a sea of anonymity. In contrast,
the above memo (reprinted here in slightly revised
form), emerged out of an open dispute between the
new administration at the San Francisco Art Institute
and the unionized workers over their contract, which
expired in September (they're affiliated with Office and
Professional Employees Local 2). The memo was
distributed throughout the SFAI along with "real"
memos and letters from the SFAI president, leaflets
from the union local and the Art Institute union
negotiating committee, and a flyer by students that
supported the workers. Although the conflict did not
reach the point of a strike, tensions have been high
throughout the fall of '88: recendy SFAI has seen
workers doing informational pickets on their lunch
hour, students lambasting the President at an open
meeting on the issue, a staff" "sick-out," as well as
plenty of bathroom graffiti, xeroxed graphics and a
couple of wandering troubadors singing about the
conflict in the school's courtyard. But of the mountain
of paper produced in the dispute, this memo gives us
the clearest insight into what happened.
Unlike the typical union battles against wage cuts,
the SFAI workers have fought mainly to keep their free
time. For over a decade, they have worked a 35 hour
week (or less), with 2 paid weeks off at Christmas,
^. and ten paid days off throughout the summer,
|\ in addition to personal vacation time. While
1 \ this surely originated at the school's con-
l , V venience, according to the rhythms of
• -^ the semester system, the SFAI wor-
:^, kers (many of them working art-
^. ;:^^» ists, alumni and students) have
t ''^'.\ developed their own vested in-
fc B''A terests in their free time. When
the administration moved to
take away this "extra" time off
on the grounds of general "pro-
ductivity" the workers refused.
Here are some people who feel they have something
better to do than work! Surprisingly, many students,
who pay very expensive tuition fees, despise the admin-
istration and have supported the staff.
The students' interest in the staffs fight reveals the
larger issue of what kind of school SFAI is becoming.
The administration's corporatizing thrust is in obnox-
ious contrast to the school's old affiliation with the
ethereal realm of avant-garde art-making. Art is
supposed to be detached from the crass materialism of
nearby office and tourist industries. Power politics
here in art-land usuaJly is cloaked in the groovy fog of
"freedom of expression" (not to deny that the free space
is real). The basic problem appears where this fog is
touched by the sun of the free market, at which point
"free expression" evaporates in a jiffy. While fine arts
have traditionally been a status symbol for the old rich,
more recendy they have been used like Rollex watches,
as objects with beauty and permanence that might get
a good price if their yup owners want to pawn them in
the uncertain future. The noveau-Yup realists at SFAI
want to rein in the avant-garde craziness; they want to
placate the SFAI's rich backers; they want to freshen-
up the smelly, paint-smeared student body (get um
ready for the real world) and most of all they want the
staff to be professional cogs, not idiosyncratic individ-
uals. The Yup takeover has been headed by a
Dukakis-clone President and a crew of (ex-S.F. mayor)
Dianne Feinsteins-in-training. Their God is cost-
effectiveness. They argue for a more byzantine wage
hierarchy and less time off, comparing the SFAI
workers' conditions to workers in similar art schools,
saying SFAI workers should bring themselves down to
that average. No wonder that the much reviled
"Director of Human Resources" who compiled an
inaccurate survey of other schools has been nicknamed
"Lois Common Denominator!" (She's asking for it: she
drives a car with a license plate spelling
Amidst today's political doldrums the SFAI workers
hesitated to strike or make offensive demands. But
they did fight off the time bandits' attempt to impose
worker-bee status on the staff. The administration too
halted at the prospect of a strike. A deal was struck that
keeps the status quo on time off but leaves the door
open for future haggling. But the basic questions were
aired about what the school is all about.
A succinct expression of the conflict the workers face
in doing boring, repetitive labor daily so others can be
creative, was made by one worker who wore a button
reading: "I'm a Slave to Art."
by Jeff Goldthorpe
Outwardly Xavier Zanzibar was just another hard-working,
fast-rising, well-groomed, decent, docile executive assistant to
a junior VP. But inwardly our man XZ was a boiling teapot of
erotic dreams. Each day when the rest of the office went out for
coffee, XZ put up his feet and let his imagination run amok.
Sometimes a single woman would come walking through the
door, clad in some clinging gown of translucent white. Intima-
tions of her body would come rippling to view amid the rippling
of her garments as she waded through the ambience of her own
sexuality toward the Pacific Ocean of his lust. Sometimes
dozens of women at a time would burst through the door and
pour across the carpet to cover him with breasts and thighs,
tongues and lips, fingers and cracks, bumps and mounds.
Of late, however, mere quantity of flesh had begun to pall
for XZ. Mere quality had begun to bore him too. His imagina-
tion had launched a restless search for variation. He had teased
out all the erotic implications to be found in garter snaps, shoe
laces, and toes. This morning, in his imagination,
he had dared to cross species lines — a giraffe, with
her graceful, endless neck. . .the premise evolved
to such a point that his brain went limp. Just then
the bong of the big clock woke Xavier Zanzibar
out of his reveries. Coffeebreak was over. He
flipped the switch on his intercom. "Miss Droople?"
her tongue slide across the painted flesh
that briefly became her smile again, and
took a step forward.
"Don't you know me?"
She turned around amd slipped the
bolt to lock the door. "Tell your
secretary to hold your calls."
With shaking fingers he punched the
intercom button. "Miss Droople," he
croaked, sweating now. "Hold my calls."
The woman moved slowly across the
carpet, mellifluous. Her fingers ran over
her body like snakes looking for buttons
"Why don't you come over here and
do that," XZ managed to choke out.
"Why don't you come over here and
say that," she replied, arching her back.
Xavier couldn't believe (or under-
"Yes sir?" said the luscious 17 year old
that he liked to imagine was on the other
endof that line.
"Any messages for me?"
"Yes, sir. Mrs. Zanzibar is here to see
Xavier frowned. "Mrs. Zanzibar?"
There was no Mrs. Zanzibar— he wasn't
married. Was this some forgotten
girlfriend, after him with a paternity
suit? Impossible: XZ had never had a
girlfriend. "Send her in," he said and
took his feet off the desk.
She walked in quiedy, leaning against
the door to close it. She might have
been in her early twenties, and though
she looked damnably familiar he could
not quite place the face. She was
wearing a floor length fur coat. With a
casual flick of her fingers, she undid the
first button, a trace of a smile flickering
on her lips.
XZ gulped and tried to speak.
She tossed her head. Her copper-
toned hair swirled and setded on her
shoulders again: just like in the sham-
JXK) commercizd. Without moving away
from the door she undid the second aind
third buttons of her coat, fmally letting
the bulky fur slide off her shoulders and
drop to the floor. She was dressed in a
semi-transparent, clinging white gown.
"What the hell—?" XZ started out of
his chair. "Who the heU — ?" he splut-
She rounded her lips into an O, let
GRAPHIC BY JRS
Stand) his luck. He pushed his chair
back and stood up, feeling whoozy. Her
fingers writhed like eels, drawing up her
skirt, gradually exposing two tanned
pillars of thigh. For one fleeting
moment, XZ did wonder about the
wisdom of letting adl this proceed with-
out further questions. He was, after all,
supposed to be working on the Perkins
Account. But by then he was already
touching one of her breasts. She wiggled
against his palm. He touched her beUy.
"Lower down," she whispered.
He slipped to his knees as she drew
her skirt up to her waist.
"Who are you?" he gasped.
"Don't stop," she crooned, sinking to
Her thighs beat around his ears, and
her voice sounded like distant sea gulls.
His tongue, like a pink reptilian crea-
ture with a will of its own, crawled into
the succulence, dragging his head along.
At first XZ was satisfied to feel his face
lapping up against that slick flesh, but
after a moment he discovered that those
lips were sufficiently elastic to accomo-
date his entire head if he pressed. This
made breathing a bit difficult, but under
the circumstances XZ was happy to
forego the oxygen. Besides, the source
of the sweetness always seemed to be a
litde further in, always a litde further in.
His tongue, drawn to that source, drove
on into the dcirkness, dragging XZ
along. Now his shoulders too had
cleared the slippery gate, but XZ was
barely aware of this. He propelled
himself forward, though he scarcely
knew that he was doing it, by pushing
off against the carpet, until at last, lost
in a torrent of sensation, XZ had
crawled physically and entirely inside
At last, totaUy exhausted, he lay stiU
inside the pulsating darkness. When at
last he did open his eyes, he expected to
find flesh pressed against his eyeballs.
■" ■ ^
PIOGESSED WORLD 23
Instead, to his surprise, he was lying on
his side, looking out over a vast,
undulating pink plain. The ground was
soft, almost rubbery to his touch.
Almost at once he noticed a clump of
specks moving toward him from the
horizon: soldiers on horseback, crack-
ing nasty- looking whips. Long, limp
scabbards swung at their waists.
XZ scrambled to his feet. He was still
wearing his three-piece pin-striped suit,
which put him in glaring contrast to his
background. He looked for a place to
hide but there was not a rock or a bush
in sight. In any case it was too late.
The soldiers reined up around him,
yammering some foreign gibberish.
"What in God's name do you devils
want?" XZ shouted.
"Money," one of them replied in
"Ha! XZ nodded triumphantly.
They were human after all. "Well, let me
tell you something, you sons of bitches.
I never carry cash." He flipped out his
string of credit cards. It was a foot and a
half long, the biggest in the whole office
by four inches.
A gasp went up among the creatures.
Barking and yelping, they swooped him
up, trussed him in a rope, and poured
across the quivering pink plain at a
gallop, whooping like sophomores and
firing festive farts. Presendy the flat
terrain gave way to a block-like envi-
ronment in pleasant decorator colors.
XZ found himself swept through a pair
of ornate gates, into a low-slung ranch-
style abode of palatial size. Indoors, the
grandeur of the furnishings added to the
sensation of immensity. Laquered
French and Oriental antique end tables
were covered with rare treasures from
Neiman- Marcus. The walls were pa-
pered with authentic ten and twenty
dollar bills. The south side of the house
was a single big picture window looking
out over a magnificent vista of Spanish
TWtSrgQIIVIAGE ., AceBackwords.™
chinchillas on a hillside that plunged
breath-stoppingly down to a speckled
valley, across which one could see a
picturesque setdement of peasants
clinging to a mountainside.
Lolling in front of this view was the
ugliest creature upon whom XZ had
ever laid eyes.
"Who— who are you?" he stammered
in amazement, but the creature ignored
"Set him down," the monster rumbled,
lighting his cigar with a hundred dollar
bill. He gazed at XZ for a moment.
Then: "Let's see the cards," he ordered
finally, blowing a series of fat cumulus
Several of his cringing subordinates
leapt to obey and got into a snarling
"Stop that, you idiots," the Boss
roared. The dogfight stopped dead.
"You want to rip up the card? Fido!
Bring me that wallet. Spot, you untie
the organism that was stuck to the
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PROCESSED WORLD 23
wallet. We might have a job for him
XZ deeply resented being described
as the organism stuck to his wallet; and
he was unpleasantly curious about the
"job" he might be given later. Mean-
while, the Boss was leafing through the
cards. "Bank-Empire Card, Andalusian
Express, Carte Noir, Fifteen Pigs
Courtesy Card," he murmured, and
then the glitter in he eyes intensified.
"Ah. . .here it is. . .Super Charge." His
fat face cracked into a smile of greed and
pleasure. "Lily!" he called out, then
pointed a huge finger stained with
tobacco juice at the yelping soldiers.
"Get out, all of you."
"Lily!" XZ exclaimed. That name. . .
And then she came into the room,
dressed in mesh- screen black stockings
and garter belt under a short, semi-
transparent white dress. She looked
younger now, practically a girl, but the
copper-toned hair still cascaded over her
unmistakable shoulders, and that
face . . . that damnably familiar
face... The girl stepped forward, pay-
ing no attention to XZ. The Boss thrust
the card into her small hand.
"Cash or charge, sir?" she inquired
"CHARGE!" bellowed the monstrosi-
ty, thrusting his bottom high up into the
air, revealing not the usual puckered
orifice but a slot-like affair about two
and a half inches long.
"CHARGE!" he shouted again, and
the girl obediently galloped forward, the
credit card held out in front of her like a
short flat sword, until she plunged it into
the atypical opening presented to her.
The howling and heaving which then
ensued made the windows tremble. The
Boss seemed to shrink above and below
till he consisted only of one enormous
blubberous mass which sprang forward
and back, engulfing with each thrust not
just the charge card but the whole hand
and part of the arm which fed in the
piece of plastic.
The girl wore an expression of pro-
found boredom. Her eyes had gone
virtually grey. Her skin was stretched
tightly across her cheekbones while
bulges on both sides of her jaws showed
how tightly clenched her mouth was.
Her lips were squeezed together in a
taut, tight line.
"SUPER CHARGE! SUPER
CHARGE!" the corpulant creature kept
shouting until his words blurred and
dissolved into a general moaning. Sud-
denly he began to quiver and emit
explosive grunts. Small coins embossed
with the profiles of presidents and other
notables cascaded from his mouth while
greenbacks — one, five, and ten dollar
bills — spewed from his other end. "Yo-
wee! Zap! Super Charge! Wow!" he
shouted and collapsed into a gelid heap.
Until this moment XZ had been
transfixed, but now horror and repul-
sion erupted in him. He leapt for the
door but the girl blocked his way.
"Not through there," she said sharply.
"The running dogs of imperialism will
tear you to pieces."
"You mean — ?"
"That's right." She put a warm hand
on his arm. "There is only one way out
"You mean — ?" XZ's gaze dropped to
"No," she protested. "Not that way—
him." She glanced toward the Boss,
piled atop his mounds of cushion,
splay-legged in burbling snores of sleep.
His organ dangled to the floor, mon-
strous even in repose.
"Through. . .him?" XZ felt himself
shrinking like a snowball on a hot day.
"Yes." She pressed the credit card into
his hand. "Now. . .while he's still asleep.
The running dogs were rattling the
"You must!" She gave him a push.
The Boss was stirring now; the commo-
tion was beginning to wake him up.
"Quick!" she screamed again. "It's your
only chance!" She grabbed his hand
impatiently and dragged him to the
couch, forcing the card toward the mass
of the Boss's behind. No sooner had the
card touched the slot in that mass, then,
like a garbage disposal, the cavity began
to suck in our man Xavier Zanzibar.
"But what about you?"
"Goodbye," she called out tearfully.
The running dogs had gotten through
the door and were already swarming
"Fm taking you with me!" He flung his
hand out, but too late. She was pufled
to the floor while XZ, two inches ahead
of the running dogs of imperialism,
disappeared into the belly of the mon-
+ * *
Disappeared from one scene, that is,
but reappeared in a more familiar
location — his own office: reappeared
with a popping sound like a cork coming
out of a bottle. The room was empty
.and XZ had the strange feeling that no
more than a second or two had passed
since he had told Miss Droople to send
in the mysterious "Mrs" Zanzibar. In fact
the door was opening and then ... in she
walked. And XZ caught his breath,
remembering now that of course there
was a Mrs. Zanzibar.
"Mother," he exclaimed, rising par-
tially out of his seat. "What're you doing
by Tamim Ansary
PROCESSED WORLD 23
GRAPHIC BY mS
by Barbara Schaffer
Tamerlane rioting west
conduit of fear
& underfed bears.
Beyond the electric shed
a topic was suggested
sold for parts:
Loneliness, the exile in the
wilderness, the exemplary wilderness of
million-dollar homes & no homes
& no children or drugged children
the soft-coal fog of gin lane
the economy of the Colosseum:
Tens of thousands of exotic beasts
captured, cared for, destroyed for
games and gods 'R Us.
by Ann-Marie Hendrickson
Mr. Trump woke up in the morning and smashed the claws
off his hands with the hammer he
always kept next to his bed for this purpose
smashed his long teeth shaved his face pounded
the wall and howled
careful attention to detail
is all that separates us from the animals he snarled
crunching his broken teeth into his bloody stumps
never forget who your true friends are he
whined into the mirror and flushed magenta trying to
focus his eyes on his own reflection that
is the secret of my success whining and pacing
around the bathroom
what a struggle it is to retain
your humanity in this business he muttered lashing
blindly at the shower curtain
around the bathroom
with each circuit his knee
banged into the bathtub he
shrieked and pounded the wall he held
his breath until he felt very faint and staggered gasped
gulping in the steaming air wheezing yes it's all under control now
St. Gabriel Park on First Avenue and Thirty-sixth
Street was old and more run-down than Dan remem-
bered. The black paint on the wrought-iron fence was
chipped and peeling, and the windows of the brick
parkhouse were boarded up and covered with colorful,
three- foot-high graffiti.
Scanning the playground in front of him, he put up
his collar and breathed steamy breath on his cold
cupped hands. The tall bare sycamores lining the
asphalt paths stood beautifully against the sunny
Manhattan skyline, against the Empire State building
some six blocks away.
Behind the big swings two young mothers eased
their bundled-up three-year-olds down the slide. He
walked to the other side of the parkhouse. Near the
fenced-in sandbox several homeless men and women
sat on the sunlit benches — talking and rubbing their
gloved hands. He inspected their tanned, leathery
faces; his mother was not among them, and he headed
for the asphalt softball field.
There could be no tricking her he told himself,
ducking through a gash in the chain-link fence and
stepping into left-centerfield. Or physically forcing her
to come with him, as Kevin and Sean had stupidly
tried the week before Christmas. They'd dragged her
to the curb and were about to get her into Kevin's car
when her flailing and shouting brought the parkey and
enough sympathetic passers-by to help her escape.
Sean chased after her, slung her over his shoulder and
carried her, kicking and screaming, back to the car.
But Kevin said the "interfering bastards" had stuck
around and again kept them from getting her in. And
after Sean bloodied the parkey's nose they'd sped away
without her. No, Dan thought, heading toward the
backstop, there'd be no more of that caveman
approach. He wasn't sure what he could offer her but
whatever it was, he'd respect her decision. Let her
make up her own mind.
Behind the backstop a group of teenagers — a
Spanish kid, three white girls, two black guys in flaring
blue dorags — inspected him. As he neared they hid
behind their backs the joint and brown-bagged quart
of beer they'd been passing. Loud rap music pounded
from their monstrous radio. He figured they were
cutting class from a nearby high school, and as he
passed he gave them the fearless yet unchallenging
look he knew would let them return to getting high,
and to dancing in that robotlike style Sean had
He walked out the side exit, then crossed the narrow
street that cut the park in two. On the corner of Second
Avenue an abandoned red Duster sat on the sidewalk,
ransacked and tireless.
Except for a few dirty chunks of snow, the
shuffleboard and handball courts were empty. At the
far end of the basketball court a heavily dressed old
woman sat on the bench reading; he headed towards
The old woman didn't look up, but something about
her shabby brown overcoat seemed familiar.
From beneath a worn green balaclava with a white
pompom, his mother looked up. Her face was wrinkled
and red — her eyes slightly bloodshot, and glassy from
the cold. She stared at him with mild shock, then
"I can't believe you're doing this. Ma."
Her face hardened.
She glanced down at his father's pants, then at
Sean's bomber jacket and her ruddy eyelids narrowed.
"If you're here, Danny — " she hissed between
clenched teeth, "to try 'n drag me home, you better
PROCESSED WORLD 23
turn around — 'fore I call a cop."
He stepped back and threw up his
hands. "No. No, I just came to say
hello." He watched her face soften a bit,
then asked if he could sit down. She bit
her lower lip and looked at him suspi-
ciously. She picked up the book she'd
laid face down on her lap, and resumed
reading. The Color Purple, the book was,
by Alice Walker. He'd not read it, but
he knew what it was about. It was a far
cry from the platonic romance novels
she'd read in bed when he was young,
after she washed and dried the dishes,
and wiped off the kitchen table, and put
the younger kids to bed.
He shooed a pigeon from the empty
side of the bench, and with his hand
inspected it before he sat down. Sitting,
the cold rushed through his father's thin
pants. He forced himself to ignore it.
"I would've come sooner, Ma, but I
was having a rough time getting used to
Beside the trash can by the fence, two
pigeons pecked at chicken scraps from a
box of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
He laughed, remembering his first
two days back, then looked at her. "I
might not have made it if I'd tried
His mother turned the page, not
looking at him, though he sensed she
"What do you have in the bags?"
She looked at the two blue Mays bags
between her feet. "An extra sweater,"
she said, not unpleasantly. "Some Sal-
tines ... apples. You want an apple,
While he wagged his head indecisive-
ly, she lay her book on her lap, removed
her mittens, and dug deeply into the
Mays bag nearest him. Her hands
smelled like Pond's lotion. A few strands
of white hair stuck out from her balacla-
va. It was amazing how much she'd
aged since he last saw her. He wondered
how long she'd survive living at the
She held out to him the least bruised
of two badly bruised apples.
"Mcintosh," she said, "your favorite."
He took the cold apple, pleased she
"It's half priced fruit," she said apolo-
getically, watching him inspect the
bruises. "From the A 'n P on Third
Avenue. Just eat around the bad parts."
He bit into the good part of the apple,
picturing her in the alley behind the
A&P, rifling through the smelly dumps-
ter. He shook the picture away and took
another bite. Behind the backstop across
the way, the rap music still played — the
kids still passed their quart of beer and
joint, and danced in their robotlike way.
It was all a little hard to believe, he
thought, stamping his foot and driving
an encroaching pigeon away. Here he
was, in a playground in Manhattan, in
the dead of winter, sitting beside the
woman who used to do everything for
him, cut his meat into little chewable
pieces, give him soothing tummy rubs
when his stomach ached — shower him
with healing kisses when he fell from his
two-wheeler, or scraped his knee while
playing. And here she was living in a
run-down flophouse, surviving on lunch
at the Scilvation Army — on bruised
fruit she scavenged from supermarket
"When'dja get back, Danny?"
"Sunday," he said, sitting up. He
watched her fold the corner of a page
and close the book. "Three days ago."
"I know what day it is, Danny."
"Oh." He bounced to his feet to keep
"Ya not used to this cold, are ya?" she
said. "Africa must be nice and warm."
"Mostly. It depends on where you
are. Ma. Africa's a big place — there's
forty-four countries. It's three times the
size of the U.S."
"Really?" she said, raising her white
eyebrows. "I didn't know it was that
"Ma, what happened? You want to
talk about it?"
She looked away, squinting into the
"You and Dad have a fight?"
She laughed, waving away the sug-
gestion with her mittened hand. She
looked over at the empty, sunlit hand-
ball courts, beyond which three lanes of
cars, buses and trucks battled their way
down Second Avenue. "Your father
wouldn't bother," she said, then laughed
again. "A fight? Nah. That woulda
taken too much effort."
"Well, he and everybody else send
their love. Ma," he lied. "They all miss
you, you know. We're all very worried
She frowned, then looked him in the
eye. "I'm just an old, worn-out machine
to them, Danny. Probably to you, too.
Just an old black 'n white tv set whose
tubes don't work anymore."
He slid closer to her on the bench.
"Come on now. Ma, that's not how
"I've served my purpose," she said,
squinting up into the sun, "now I'm
dirt." She undid the top button of her
coat, and he saw she had on a second
"Why don't we get a cup of coffee
somewhere," he said, "and talk about it?
Someplace nice and warm?"
Her face hardened. "No, thank you,"
she said politely. She opened the book to
her place. "I'm just fine here. I don't
need anybody's coffee."
"Aren't you cold, Ma?" he said a few
minutes later. ''Ym freezing.''
She looked down at his bare, purplish
hands, then up at his uncovered head.
"No hat and gloves, heh?"
He studied the laces on his new
Wallabees. "Look, Ma ..."
"Whatja leave 'em home?"
"I left them at Kevin's."
"Boy-oh-boy, Danny," she said with
that familiar smile. She took off her
balaclava and mittens and handed them
to him. Her white hair was cropped
short, and she was thinning on top.
"Nah — it's all right. Ma," he said,
pushing away the badaclava and mit-
tens. "I'm not that cold. Really."
"Go 'head, put 'em on — you'll catch
your death 'a cold. You're not used to
this weather. Go on, Danny, take 'em."
He took the balaclava and mittens,
and put them on.
"You ever read this book?" she said,
holding the cover up to him.
He told her he hadn't.
"Boy, this woman's sharp." She began
reading where she'd left off "One sharp
cookie, this woman is." She read a
paragraph or so, then looked at him.
"She knows what goes on between man
and woman. And she ain't afraid to
He wiped his nose on the back of one
of her mittens, opened and closed his
hands, which were slightly numb. He
couldn't take this much longer. Gra-
dually he brought his arm around the
top of the bench, then around her
shoulders. He gave her shoulders the
slightest pressure, just enough to make
himself felt, but no more. Her shoulders
After a few minutes, he felt her
shoulders relax. Then he asked her if
she'd come with them to L.A., and —
before she could refuse — if they could
please go someplace else, just to sit if
that's all she wanted. Her shoulders
"I don't want to be anybody's burden,
Danny," she said, turning from him,
squinting into the sun. "I'm gonna get a
job here. I'll be all right, don't worry."
"What if you don't find one?"
"I'll find one." She closed the book and
rested it sideways in her lap. "If not I'll
get by on social security."
"How much is that these days?"
She looked at him, annoyed. "Half
your father's." she said, looking away.
She studied the kids behind the backstop
across the way. "Two- fifty a month."
She dug into one of her bags, came up
with a black ski hat and a pair of
PROCESSED WORLD 23
mittens, and put them on. Then she
looked at him.
"Listen, I don't want your pity,
Danny. I'll get by. I always have, I
always will. Don't worry about it. I
won't starve. Believe me."
"What if you don't get a job?"
She sighed and and looked across the
park. "I will."
"Have you started looking?"
"A little," she said, though from the
way she said it he sensed she'd actually
looked a lot. "Here and there."
"Nothing yet," she said, looking at the
Second Avenue traffic. "Not many peo-
ple want to hire a sixty-three-year-old
woman who lives at the Vigilant." She
turned to him. "Look, can we talk about
something else? How's Lynn and Jacob?
looked down at her brown rubber boots.
"Don't worry, Danny, somethin'U come
along. Always has, always will. Don't
pity me — I don't want your pity."
"Apartments are cheap out there.
"L.A. Me and Lynn'll be living in an
expensive one, but there's cheaper spots
around. We could find you something
you could afford. Lynn's brother's in
rentals. We could put you up until he
found you something."
At that her shoulders relaxed, and he
rubbed them a little harder, his hand
thawing slightly inside her mittens.
"Look, Ma, it's my turn now. I'll take
care of you."
"I don't need anyone to take care of
me. I can take care of myself."
Are they fitting in all right? You two
pick out a school yet for Jacob in
California? What does he look like, is he
big, small, does he play baseball, bas-
"Do you have to tell them where you
She rolled her eyes and clucked her
tongue. "They got to have someplace to
call to tell me I got the job."
"Well . . . can't you arrange with the
guy at the desk? For him not to answer
the phone with 'The Vigilant'?"
She smiled patiently. "A woman
named Irene works the desk. Jamaican
— late-forties. Very nice. But she's got a
hundred 'n twenty residents. The owner
says she's gotta answer Vigilant'. What's
she gonna do, lose her job over me?" She
"All right, all right. But at least let me
help. Can't I help?"
A dapper old man and his well-
groomed afghan entered through the
opposite gate. The afghan came over
and sniffed at Dan's crotch, then ran
back to its owner.
"I don't need anyone's help," she said,
watching the old man leash his afghan
near the water fountain. "I don't need
anyone to take care of me. No thanks."
"No one's going to take care of you,
Ma. We just want to help a little, that's
His mother sighed. She fished out a
slice of stale rye bread from her coat
pocket, pitched it to the pigeons milling
around the trash can.
"Is it because of Lynn."
"That she's Jewish?"
She rolled her eyes and pursed her
lips, then looked at him. "Jewish,
smooish — what's it matter? As long as
you love her, and she loves you." She
cooed to the brown pigeon with white
tail feathers bobbing toward her, and
dropped it a scrap of bread. "Look at me
'n your father. We're both Catholic.
Irish. What good it'd do? As long as you
love her, Danny, and she loves you.
That's all that counts." She tossed the
rest of the slice to the pigeons coming
toward her. "You kids're all grown up
now. Independent. I don't want to
burden you. You got your own lives
But he could see her heart wasn't in it.
And after a few minutes of watching the
backstop gang terrorize the Second
Avenue traffic, he said, "Remember
that old Horn 'n Hardarts, Ma? Near
Radio City? The one we used to eat at
after the Easter show?" Her small smile
told him she did. And after invoking a
few more old memories, and picking at
another of her bruised apples, she
agreed to go there for one cup of hot
On the way to the subway she asked
how the others were. He told her all he
knew — about Kevin's decision to sell
his old taxis and buy Peugeot diesels to
save on gas. She thought it was a good
"It's amazing how far we've come," he
said. He thought of the old apartment,
he and Sean and Kevin in one bedroom,
Sue, Katey and Meg in the other, she
and Dad sleeping in the living room on
the convertible couch.
"Yeah," she said, smiling. "I'm very
proud of all of you. I know your father is
She let him take her bags beside the
Haagen Dazs at Third Avenue.
"I see you're gettin' a little gray,
Danny," she said, as they passed a man
sleeping on cardboard beside B. Alt-
man's. "Ain't it somethin' how time
flies?" She reached up and tugged his
earlobe through the balaclava. "How's it
feel to be an old fart, heh, Danny-boy?"
"You know, Ma, you'd really like
California." He knew that after hearing
more about L.A., and with a good
warm meal in her stomach, she'd soften
to the idea. "It's nice and warm there.
No more New York winters, no more
"Ah, but I hate sticky weather, Dan-
ny. I hate it worse than winter.
"But L.A.'s dry warm. Ma — not
muggy like here."
"Yeah?" She stepped aside to let two
Spanish kids in a hurry pass, her face
PROCESSED WORLD 23
brightening. "Much of a breeze out
"Sure," he said, and he improvised
about the "year-round tradewinds" that
blew off the Pacific.
"And mild," he added half a block
later, knowing her penchant for moder-
ation. "It's got four seasons, but mild
seasons. Not too warm, not too cold,
She said nothing, but he knew it was a
good sign. He figured she was already
imagining herself cruising around
sunny Southern California, in a bright
little VW convertible. With no husband
to serve or answer to, and finally doing
what she pleased — perhaps broadening
her horizons with a college degree.
At the Sixth Avenue station, the white
attendant in the token booth gave him a
funny look, and it occurred to him that
he and his mother were a strange sight
— he in his worn green balaclava,
oversized bomber jacket and baggy
pants, and his mother, this shabbily
dressed woman who might easily live on
the street. But he shrugged off the
attendant's look, and the subtle stares
from a well-dressed couple on the plat-
form, and he thought ahead to his next
When he went home, either with her,
or with a firm promise to meet her again
tomorrow, he'd talk to the others about
setting up a monthly fund, until she got
on her feet financially. It was only fair
the others share the cost of her upkeep.
But perhaps she'd be happier living with
Kevin and Nancy, in their big house in
Larchmont. She might be better off
staying in New York, and Kevin's kids
would be good for her. L.A. would be a
drastic change — at her age it might be
too difficult to adjust. The house in
Santa Monica had only two bedrooms,
which he and Lynn had figured were
enough for them and Jacob, but which
would be a bit tight with a guest. Surely
his mother wouldn't want to share a
bedroom with a nine-year-old. But he
knew they'd work something out. The
important thing was that she have a
He leaned against the old wooden
bench on which his mother sat, and
inhaled the urine stench of the platform,
read the Marlboro and Burger King
clock advertisements. He stepped over
to the track, and looked down at the
scummy, garbage- filled water between
the rails. He pulled out his wallet and
counted his traveler's checks. There
were ten twenties and a fifty left. He
tried picturing the area around Radio
City, but couldn't, and he realized the
old Horn & Hardarts had probably been
torn down long ago, replaced by some
chic ethnic restaurant, some expensive
place like the one Kevin took him to. He
wondered where they could go instead.
When he heard the familiar roar from
the tunnel, he took his mother's arm.
The corrugated-steel B train screeched
to a halt. He picked up his mother's bags
with one hand, and with the other
guided her safely into the warm train. It
was not as spotless and shiny as the new
4 train he'd seen earlier at Grand
Central, but the car was more modern
than the old painted ones on the Flush-
YUPPIES OUT, PICO 147, and
other spraypainted names and slogans
covered the walls, but the blue fiberglass
seats were clean and comfortable.
"Nice and warm, isn't it?" he said to
her, as he enjoyed the heat, the relative
quiet of the ride. She nodded and
smiled, and squeezed his forearm. Oth-
erwise as the train moved sluggishly
uptown, she sat in silence, still wearing
her black ski hat and mittens, her feet
crossed contentedly beneath her. She'll
be just fine, he thought, shifting away to
give her more room. She'll be just fine.
Two punks in black combat boots,
leather jackets and blond spiky mo-
hawks stormed through the car; on the
back of one's jacket was scrawled, in
white paint, Kapital, Kapital Uber
Alles; on the other's. Fuck Amerikkka.
"I think that Horn 'n Hardarts in on
Forty-Sixth, Danny," his mother said,
as the train sped into Forty-Second
Street. "We should get off at Rockefeller
Plaza, the next stop."
She chuckled. "That is, if it's still
there, Danny. They probably tore it
down long ago. We'll probably have to
go someplace else."
"That's all right."
"You know, honey," she said as the
doors closed, "I'd insist on paying you
back whatever you lay out for me. Rent,
food, whatever. I don't want any hand-
outs. As soon as I get a job I'll pay ya
right back." She removed her mittens
and rubbed her red, chapped hands.
"And as soon as I get a job I'll be right
out and into my own little place. You 'n
Lynn got your own life."
"Sure, Ma. However you want to
Opposite them sat a woman Lynn's
age, deep in thought, and as he studied
her reflective face he wondered if Lynn
would go along with this. He should've
asked her before offering her what he
had; Lynn wasn't exactly an African —
she'd been raised in comfort, and liked
her privacy, and a fair amount of space.
A two-bedroom house was small, and
with his mother it might be uncomfort-
able — for all of them.
After doing his best to ignore her, he
met the stare of the attractive young
black woman sitting at the end of their
bench. Her lovely figure was closiked in
a form-fitting beige longcoat; she wore
an expensive fur hat, and shiny lavender
boots. She'd been eyeing him since they
got on, with what he'd thought was
unabashed attraction. But now, as he
studied her delicately lipsticked and
rouged face, he realized her look was
one of amusement, at the sight of him
and this shabby old woman sitting side
by side. He blushed uncontrollably, as
he hadn't done in years, and he looked
down the car, feeling foolish, and sud-
denly embarrassed to be sitting beside
He felt a wave of guilt for his thought,
but caught sight of a Spanish woman
and her son, a handsome boy of ten or
eleven, at the far end of the car.
Watching the woman and her son, he
found deep within his memory his
mother's breakdown, which she'd had
when he was eleven. She'd convinced
herself she was going to die — she'd
even insisted on writing her will, and on
seeing Father Hanratty for her last rites.
And one morning, as he ate breakfast,
with an awful gleam in her eye, as if she
were punishing him for her bondage as
housewife and mother, she told him she
wanted him to be a good boy after she
died. And he'd cried and cried, and had
bad dreams for months, even after she
returned from the hospital. What if she
started with that crap again — in front
of Jacob? He might be better off putting
her in a home, where she'd be with
people with whom she shared common
interests and memories. They could find
one near Santa Monica, visit her every
Sunday, take her on picnics to the
beach. Or perhaps she'd be better off
living with Kevin and Nancy, or Sean
and his girlfriend.
As they pulled into Rockefeller Plaza,
the stop for Horn & Hardarts, his
mother stood up. The conductor an-
nounced something over the p. a. The
doors slid open, and he felt the cold air
from the platform slap his cheek. His
mother stood waiting for him at the
door, her two shopping bags in hand.
"This is the stop, Danny," she said,
smiling. She waited a moment, and then
the smile left her face. She stepped out
and the doors closed, leaving him
watching, but still seated, on the train
by Bob Slaymaker
PROCESSED WORLD 23
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PROCESSED WORLD 23
Another Nad Adventure
Well, it's my second day out of the
Psych Ward, and I'm still trying to
deal with the diagnosis, at the ripe
old age of 30, of being a "paranoid
schizophrenic." This handy label was
given to me after I disclosed that my
brother was diagnosed as paranoid
schizophrenic 15 years ago. And you
know the American Medical Associa-
tion PR about how it's all caused by
some genetic thing, how it runs in the
family, or some such shit.
I stopped talking to my brother Jim
when I was eight years old. He just
seemed too damn crazy for a perfectly
sane person such as myself. Jim was
best friends with the mortician's son. I
guess Jim had a hard time expressing
what it was like to have this friend's
older brother shut him inside a casket
or take him down to the embalming
room to see a corpse with a bullet
hole in it. Not that anybody wanted to
Another one of Jim's downfalls was
that he had no interest in playing
baseball. For this he was whipped
repeatedly with four or five belts
because my dad thought he was a
sissy faggot. By the time he was 1 1 or
12, Jim had become a vegetable, and
laid in bed all day talking to the
voices in his head. I hated him even
more. His very existence got on my
A few days after blood started
gushing from my vagina, I learned
that I had indeed started my first
period. The next day, I was com-
pletely taken by surprise when my
parents announced their new policy
of giving me the same treatment,
which soon developed into an S/M
ritual that lasted throughout high
school. All I had done to deserve this
was to call my mother a bitch.
Jim now haunts the streets of Ply-
mouth, Indiana, a homeless street
person, scrounging around for a free
drink, and embarrassing my parents
on purpose, so they say. I asked if
anybody had ever tried to help him
apply for disability benefits, so he
could at least have the basic human
dignity of receiving food and shelter.
The thought had never occurred to
them. After all, that would be like
getting welfare. Perish the thought!
My sister Jeanne, the renowned
irmocent angel, recently visited me
with her two sons. Three years ago I
told Jeanne that my friend David had
died of AIDS. "Is AIDS still around?"
she asked. I stopped visiting David in
the hospital because my boyfriend
didn't want me to. I was weary of his
constant blathering about how I
might get AIDS just by touching
David and breathing the same air. I
didn't want him to leave me. To me,
he was life itself.
(And let's not forget my four abor-
tions, the last one at the urging of the
above-mentioned boyfriend, after I
bought myself a maternity wardrobe
and married him. Yes, I did file for
divorce immediately. But we recon-
ciled a few times in later years. He
was so cute.)
"OK, so she doesn't read the pa-
pers," one of my therapists surmised
of Jeanne. So what? All I know is that
when my sister left, I was standing at
the kitchen sink, mulling over this
and that, and suddenly it was as if
someone slugged me in the gut, and I
fell to the floor, and cried for two
days. My nephews would inherit the
legacy of denial, confusion, and fear
unless I did something NOW!
My solution was to sit down and
write my life story in order to grasp
why my family was so psychotic. To
do this, I forced myself to overcome
my total creative block of 15 years.
My tome grew to 20 or more pages. I
couldn't care less about eating or
sleeping because I was so intent at
getting at the truth. When I inserted a
passage about the tragic fates that
had overtaken almost everyone my
family or I had been friends with, I
Actually, the first couple of days in
the Psych Ward weren't too bad. It
was a humbling experience. My big-
gest complaint was that the drugs
they pumped into me didn't help my
depression and anxiety any, they just
scrambled my brains, and my new
label destroyed my credibility.
I had a hacking cough due, appar-
ently, to my taking up smoking again,
which goes with the territory in a
place like that. The nurse said she
was going to give me an injection to
determine if I had TB. It seems they
use a pork derivative serum for this,
and I freaked. I thought of those poor
people in Belle Glades, Florida (see
Covert Action Information Bulletin's
no. 28 and 29). But it was clear that I
could not get out of there unless I
submitted. I later found another in-
jection mark which I cannot explain.
I noticed that copies of my stories
kept disappearing and reappearing.
Someone had opened my bottles of
contact lens disinfectant and saline
solution, so I chucked everything,
including the contact lenses. I re-
membered how a woman in Marin
went blind after using contaminated
When I found a piece of rope on a
shelf behind my bed, nestled under-
neath a pile of newspapers, I could
not contain my horror. It was just the
right length for a garrote. I know my
murder mysteries. I brought it to one
of the few therapists I trusted, who
pointed out how paranoid I was, for
the millionth time.
Thus, I flunked the Reality Test,
and when my friends started a steady
campaign for my release, my shrink
used the rope incident as proof that I
wasn't "ready." But my friends look
very conservative, so he finally
agreed to let me go as long as I
stayed with them.
And this, dear Processed World, is
where you come in! The point, at last!
My friends brought me a copy of your
latest issue, which I was happy to see
after letting my subscription lapse a
number of years ago. Today, I took it
with me to read while enjoying
breakfast, and I read the letters from
your readers. It is strangely comfort-
ing to know that there are other
people trying to survive honestly in
this insane world, and who are trying
desperately to maintain their self-
If I can ever save up the bucks for a
trip back to Indiana, I will look for my
brother and get down on my knees
and plead for forgiveness. And I will
accept whatever his response is to my
belated awareness. May I live long
enough to do this.
I'm enclosing a check please start
J. W.— Santa Cruz, CA
GRAPHIC BY PAULINE P.
PROCESSED WORLD 23
CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT
"The Children of the Day
Are Seen by Everyone
The Children of the
Night are seen by none."
by B. Brecht
Like American cities that are always more beautiful
from afar, the schools of Oakland, CA get worse and
worse the closer one gets. As a substitute teacher in
them, I constantly face the cracks in the walls, the steps
falling away from the buildings and the permanent
October of paper whirling round in the wind that
together comprises a perpetually rephrased statement
of rejection. The students and staff reporting each day
cannot possibly ignore that these are places of no
account, the bottom of the line. If there was any
concern at all, it would be child's play (literally) to
organize kids to simply get the paper picked up.
Inside, the situation is poorer still. There are
symbolic statements of care and order placed in the
vicinity of the front office. Each school usually has an
uplifting motto near the front door: "Rise to the
Heights with Reading," for exeimple, or "Success
through Responsibility," "Providing the Best Possible
Services, "or "We Can Do It," but the further away
from the main office, the bleaker the scene becomes.
The paper debris gets heavier, the light poorer, the
graffiti bolder and the effluvium from the rest rooms
more obtrusive. Some of the worst corners of the
school combine all of these features. In dark gloomy
rooms, water drips from the pipes while fumes waft in
from the lavatory on one side and the "cafetorium" on
The general structural problems of the schools are
depressing, but it is, after all, possible to create a
superb environment for learning in a city loft, a
thatched shack in the jungle, a quonset hut. In
Oakland, however, the sordidness is massively com-
pounded by the students' own problems, which
manifest themselves in tiny classroom details.
Most rooms bear the scars of conflict — obscenities
scrawled wherever possible (on walls, desks, seats,
texts, dictionaries). Whatever can conveniently be
defaced or degraded is defaced and degraded: a kind of
effort at consistency in which the external world is
PROCESSED WORLD 23
unconsciously matched with the internal. If the inside
is a jumble, then the outside will be sculpted to match.
The rituals of coming of age also require attention: the
use of red ink in seats to simulate menstrual discharge
helps relieve boredom and celebrates the unfolding of
biological changes both at the same time.
This is all part of the mix. The black and brown
adolescent kids come piling into the trashed or stripped
down classrooms and there they get the treatment, or
the Learning. But the Learning is readly the least cruel
of the schools' ingredients, given the fund of sincere,
benevolent intent behind it. Most vile is the under-
stood, agreed-upon mandate that these really aren't
schools at all. They are holding facilities, warehouses
to contain the dangerous impulses of impoverished
youth. The youth are not likely to take too kindly to
the Learning under these circumstances.
A significant minority of kids are furious with the
idea of being contained against their best interests
(whatever they may be) and continuously invoke chaos
against most signs and tokens of mind.
Capping on a crazy. An emotionally disturbed kid (and
there are usually four or five to a class) can be set off
like a petard by whispering about him behind his back
or by stealing his property. He then wanders about the
classroom complaining piteously looking for his things
or seeking to wreak revenge on his tormentors. This
can be the source of riotous amusement — particularly
when the disturbed kid is singled out by the naive
teacher for punishment. In the meantime, all learning
is brought to a halt.
Sudden intimate needs made public. Simple things, the
toilet, the sudden oncoming of the monthlies, finding
someone's earlier monthlies right on your own seat,
the effect of a strong fart nearby, the inedible lunch
food coming to a dramatic resolution, all command
universal attention when shouted at the right moment.
Who could fault such legitimate needs?
Direct attack. Erasers, spitballs, cosmetic ornaments,
chalk — whatever comes immediately to hand — make
up a limidess arsenal of missiles to be hurled at the
teacher or other students whenever the opportunity
presents itself (usually during some other disruption or
at a momentary lapse of vigilance).
There are various ways of dealing
with such onslaughts (and it is necessary
to deal with them directly and immedi-
ately). They use up time and deplete
energy but aren't as wearing as another,
more subtle sort of classroom psycholo-
gical warfare especially appropriate to a
minority-populated, inner-city school.
Consider the broad spectrum of faults
and blemishes to which the creature is
prey: bad breath, dandruff, warts, facial
hair, bald spots, spaces between the
teeth, jowls, asymmetries. Think of the
amusement that can be derived from
comments about these, ambiguously
whispered, and add to it any of your
own (quite possibly real) personal fears.
Might there not be a stain near your fly?
Is it impossible that there's a big ink blot
on the back of your blouse or a red stain
on tiie seat of your dress?
For days, weeks, and months the
scenarios of displeasure are enacted:
Marquita waves her hand in front of her
nose as the teacher approaches. "Bad
breath, there can't be no wrong in telling
the truth," Dante says nearby.
"Here comes Ol' Dracula Breath,"
says Malike in a real deep voice.
Added to that is the epithet; there is
no way to escape from the word "nig-
ger." Its use is pervasive and continu-
ous. The purposes served are legion: a
putdown, a sign of friendship, an ex-
pression of desire to become friends, a
statement of equality, of inequality.
Mostly its use is the racist judgment of
the outside world rising up inside, "You
black filth!" for example. When used
against me, however, in "you fucking
nigger" (instead of "honky"), its use is a
puzzle. It also puzzled the black campus
administrator who hesitated a few mo-
ments before leading the poor child
away to the office. "We need to have
those exact words written down on the
referral form," he said.
A response to the psychological war-
fare isn't mandatory. It can't be since the
meaning may be too ambiguous, too
ephemeral, too self-distracting. There
are ways to reduce its occurrence but
not eliminate it altogether. Ultimately it
boils down to learning to ignore it much
like a stamping machine in an assembly
plant. The noise intrudes into your
consciousness only when it ceases; the
cost is difficult to assess. The racial
issue, on the other hand, surfaces con-
tinually in a variety of forms compre-
hensible and incomprehensible — and to
ignore it is impossible.
Take the recent large influx of refu-
gees from southeast Asia, for example.
The refugees make up a melange of
peoples from Laos, Cambodia, Thai-
land, and Vietnam. Many have region-
ally distinct cultures and dialects. Their
arrival is so recent that they possess very
limited political power (as noncitizens
and nonvoters). The students seem to
share (1) a very poor comprehension of
English, (2) a profound sense of familial
identity, and (3) an avid desire to absorb
the learning that the schools are pre-
sumably supposed to set forth.
Now the District, following its own
political priorities, provides the very
minimum of support for these kids. In
the ESL (English as a Second Lan-
guage) classes that I've taught, they're
all bunched together. The Vietnamese
sit cheek by jowl with the Hmong, the
Cambodians with the Thais, in a verita-
ble tower of Babel. TTiere are no books.
The regular teacher brought in material
she had bought or cadged on her own.
"I've pleaded with the principal and
I've called Downtown," she told me,
"and they said that these kids' compre-
hension of English was so bad that it
would be a waste of money to get books
for them. So I guess they're saying that
the students are so dumb that they have
to stay dumb."
The kicker in this is that the southeast
Asian kids don't "stay dumb." On the
contrary, they sweep the honor rolls. From
half to three-fourths of the honor rolls
that I've seen in the schools (posted
conspicuously near the front office) are
loaded with names like Mok Moi,
Reaksme Leng, Than Phueng and Won
Fang. In several schools all the names on
the honor roll were Oriental. And in
class the behavior of these kids is
exemplary: quiet, industrious and cu-
rious, they represent a teacher's fantasy
of the good student.
As one might expect, this doesn't go
down very well with their non-Oriental
classmates. "Here come the chinky-
dinky-linkies," they say. Once, when I
wrote a sentence, "He ate the dog," on
the board to illustrate a point of gram-
mar, students called out, "Oh, that
means that you're talking about the
Dinkies." Meanwhile, Oriental kids in
the lower grades are literally amusing
punching bags for their more aggressive
classmates since they don't seem to fight
Once, in an awards assembly, the
black principal read from a list of
academic achievers: "The highest hon-
ors," he said, "go to Moi Fen for the best
grades in school." Dead silence. No one
moved. "The second best," he went on
"is Tai Beng." Again, dead sUence. After
about eight or nine more such names
(and more dead silence), he reached
Laquita Robinson. Laquita rose and
went to the podium to claim her certifi-
cate amid uproar and applause. The
experience reminded me of tales of
immigrant Jews in urban schools at the
turn of the century.
Such group rivalry is part of an
American pattern. It is at least compre-
hensible. There are, however, things
that absolutely mystify me. In one
all-girl music class, I decided at the end
of a particularly crazed Friday to en-
courage the kids to sing any song they
wanted to— just to get their minds off
attacking each other, the classroom or
me. So they got into singing psalms and
hymns. Then after a while, a personally
commanding girl named Keisha, who
had been leading the singing, began to
PROCESSED WORLD 23
She acted as if they were in church,
and she spolce of all the good things that
Jesus was bringing. Then she went ofi
into a melodic prayer. People began to
feign swooning, talking in tongues, and
being brought back by their sisters. All
of that was fair enough. Then she began
to speak of the Devil and how he was
always around. About the same time she
was talking about the Devil, one of
the students shut off the lights (which
puzzled me since it takes a special kind
of key to do this), and another moved
quickly to cover the windows with heavy
At the precise moment that the room
was at its maximum darkness, Keisha
reached the apogee of her oration, and
simultaneously the class produced a
monstrous ear-piercing shriek. It must
have terrified everyone in a two-
hundred-yard radius. I don't doubt that
they had literally called up the Devil in
themselves. The campus administrator
showed up in a minute, but there was
nothing to be seen.
After acting vile and horrible for
about another ten minutes (school was
almost over for the week), the students
managed to pull off one more quick
black mass. As the final bell rang and
the second show concluded, they ran
rampaging out of the room, turning
over chairs and desks and flinging
ketchup (from the little disposable
squeezies available free in the cafetor-
ium) on the walls.
Five minutes later, a little sweet waif
ambled back alone into the room and,
without saying anything, helped me set
the room's chairs upright.
My focus has been upon the color and
clash of the classroom. What happens to
learning in all of this has been only
hinted at. In most instances, I found
that it isn't so much nonexistent as
transformed into a venerable irrele-
vance. By "venerable," I mean an entity
of reverence, like a church. I say
"irrelevant" because learning is largely
incapable of attainment under the cir-
For students, it is something to put up
with in the hope that if you got through
it maybe you could graduate and if you
graduated, maybe you could get a job.
For administrators, it's something that's
periodically measured by the state and
used as a basis of comparison with other
administrators. For teachers, it usually
serves as a form of behavioral and social
control. It gives the students something
to do during the class hour so as to
A surreal quality to learning thus
evolves, something suitable for horta-
tory slogans near the main office and for
peddlers of success motivation schemes
[how to be successful in less
THAN TEN MINUTES A DAY./), who
seem to have discovered a gold mine in
the ghetto schools of Oakland. In the
absence of relevance, in reliance upon
teaching materials of questionable worth
even in a suitable environment, in the
presence of students whose backgrounds
make learning difficult if not impossible,
the imputed purpose of the school takes
upon itself the characteristics of a scam.
Robert Stone, in his Hall of Mirrors,
has one of his characters describe the
concept of the "Big Store." The Big
This man had a black coat.
This woman had a machine gun.
This man is drunk.
This man got soot.
This woman had a big gun.
This man is drunk.
This people is drunk.
The man got hlood.
The gang or bad.
This children was shoot.
The woman was drunk.
I am drunk.
This woman is shoot.
The man is drimk.
This woman is soing.
This is my day.
The man is shoot.
by Jamila, age 7,
Los Angeles, 1988
from a class assignment,
"Gangs and How They Affect Us'
Store is a real enough place, all right,
made of plaster and wood and conven-
tional furniture, but it's part of a
confidence scheme designed to convince
ethers of the truth of a fiction. "The Big
Store Man," Stone's character explains,
"makes his own reality, understand. He
creates a whole world that somebody,
for some reason, wants to believe in.
Read people, real action, but it's not
exactly happening, you dig?"
by Allen Krebs(C) 1988
PROCESSED WORLD 23
GILLIE & GILLIE CRYOGENICS
Deep in his most secret heart of
hearts, Mr. Elhott had always beUeved
that ordinary rules of existence did not
apply to him. Though not yet forty, he
was already considered to have achieved
world-class status on the corporate play-
ing field. He had an office on Mont-
gomery Street, a home in Pacific
Heights, a condo in Maui, a member-
ship at the Bohemian Club, a black
BMW, a red Porsche, and over two
hundred silk ties. He had no wife or
children, but he wanted none. He wasn't
a man who sought emotionail succor
from the opposite sex or felt the need for
a warm arm wrapped around his waist
at night. Each day he gave birth to
himself. That was enough.
He was not prepared for death. The
occasional bouts of moderate illness he
had experienced in his life he had fought
all the way just as he had fought every
circumstance not wholly to his liking.
Mr. Elliott was used to exercising
control. He liked the upper hand. He
was stunned, therefore, when his doctor
announced that his cancer was well
"How long do I have?" he asked. "Six
months. Eight at the outside."
He took a deep breath to collect
himself before he got up and walked out.
He preferred not to waste time discuss-
ing chemotherapy and other treatment
modalities that would at best permit him
to survive through the end of the fiscal
year. Mr. Elliott was already construct-
ing an alternative crisis-management
strategy. He went to visit cryonicist
Barry Gillie, founder and president of
Gillie Cryonics of Marin.
"Just what are my chances?" Mr.
"Excellent," Dr. Gillie replied. "Much
better than many candidates we inter-
view. After all, you're still a young man,
and aside from your cancer, you're still
healthy and whole. I think we can safely
assume that a cure for cancer will
eventually be discovered. All you need
is time — and with cryonics, you can buy
that time. My assistants and I are good
at what we do, Mr. Elliott.
"My father developed this technique
for suspending life indefinitely; it
brought him a Nobel prize. I've devoted
my life to perfecting his methods and
making the process available to people
like yourself. We can freeze the body
down to the temperature of liquid
nitrogen. That's minus 196 degrees
Celsius — minus 330 degrees on the
Fahrenheit scale. At that point, molecular
motion stops, and one second's worth of
degeneration takes about 300 trillion
years. You can buy all the time you
"What about bringing me back?" Mr.
"It's tricky," Gillie admitted. "Death,
we have discovered, does not occur all at
once. Rather, it's a gradual shutting
down of systems. Starting up those
systems again must also be gradual.
Right now we're still grappling with the
problem of tissue damage, which can be
extensive, especially in organisms alrea-
dy technically expired. Very frustrating.
But, of course, Mr. Elliott, you're still
very much alive. And let me tell you:
we've been quite successful at taking
living organisms full circle. Maybe
you'd like to see some of our work?"
"Just a moment, then," the doctor
said. He picked up his phone receiver
and punched the intercom button.
"Wilson," he told the party on the other
end, "would you bring Gordie in? We're
going to see the animals."
A minute later, a lab assistant in a
white coat came through the door
holding the hand of a solemn, husky,
red-haired boy of three or four.
"Thank you, Wilson," Gillie said. The
child tottered over and le^med against
the doctor's knees. "My son, Mr. Elli-
ott." Mr. Elliott was surprised to see a
child in such a place, aind he said so. But
Dr. Gillie stood firm in his reasons.
"I myself grew up in a laboratory very
much like this one," he said. "I want the
same for my son. The processes of life
and death are still a mystery for us, but
they must not be taboo. I want Gordie
to feel completely at ease here. This is a
family business, you know."
Mr. Elliott could think of no reply.
The concept of family did not move
him, and he did not understand, or
trust, the humanitarian impulse that
drove men like Gillie. It had never held
a place in his life. When he remembered
his own father's death, all he felt was
relief and vague gratitude at having at
last been awarded control over the
"Gordie," the doctor said, "we're go-
ing to go see the animals. Would you
The boy brightened and grinned up
at his father. Together the two men and
the child strolled through a maze of
hallways and into a large, cement-
floored room filled with cages. All the
lab animals — mosdy hamsters, rabbits,
and dogs — were foraging madly around
their enclosures. The boy ran to a pen
that held two beagles.
"His favorite," Dr. Gillie explained.
"My Gordie is all-boy. Now, Mr. EUi-
ott, I want you to know that each and
every one of these creatures has been
frozen and revived. With no evidence
whatsoever of dzumage."
PROCESSED WORLD 23
Mr. Elliott was duly impressed. Yet it
was a big step he was contemplating,
even for a risk-tsiker like himself. On the
other hand, if he passed up this oppor-
tunity, the outcome was depressingly
"I don't know," he said.
"I can understand how you must be
feeling," Gillie said. "But I believe in this
process. In fact. . ." He lowered his voice
to a whisper and leaned confidentially
toward Elliott. "In fact, I believe in it so
completely that I was willing to risk my
own son's life."
Mr. Elliott's eyebrows flew up as he
realized what Gillie was saying. "Your
son here? You tried the process on
him?" 'Yes, indeed," the doctor replied
triumphandy. "And as you can see, he's
perfecdy all right. Just a normal three-
year-old. But please, Mr. Elliott, don't
spread it around. If my wife ever found
out, she'd never let me babysit him
Mr. Elliott was sold. Maybe the old
saying was right: you can't take it with
you. But with the help of cryonics, he
could at least come back and get it. He
shook hands with the doctor and went
home to settle his affairs.
Three months later, he had quit his
job, bid his colleagues farewell, liqui-
dated his assets, and left copious in-
structions for his lawyer, his broker, and
his banker. Then, with just the suit on
his back and wearing his favorite silk tie,
he climbed into a cab and ordered the
driver to take him across the bay to
Gillie Cryonics of Marin.
That night as he lay stretched out on
the clean and shining, stainless steel
table in Gillie's operating room, he
contemplated the nature of existence as
he had known it. When he woke up
again. Gillie had warned him, life might
be altogether different than either of
them could imagine. Mr. Elliott realized
he might come to in this century or the
next or thousands of years from now.
There was no telling. It was an
adventure of magnificent proportions.
"Sweet dreams, Mr. Elliott," Gillie
said as he leaned over him and swabbed
his forearm with cotton soaked in alco-
hol. "I can't say when we'll meet again.
Perhaps not until my son or my grand-
son or one of my far-flung descendants
brings you around. But you'll be in good
hands, I'm sure. When you do wake,
there'll be time enough for you to live
out the rest of your life the way God and
nature intended. Just think how much
interest your investments will have
earned for you by then!"
A pleasant thought, indeed, and Mr.
Elliott was content as the injection Gillie
gave him took effect. Within moments
PROCESSED WORLD 23
his attention slipped away. Then he
seemed to find himself suspended near
the ceiling of the operating room, look-
ing down upon his own body lying
naked on the table. He watched as the
doctor and the assistant drained his
blood, then filled his veins with the
glycerol-based blood substitute that
would act as antifreeze during the years
he would lie suspended. He watched the
entire process, and he wondered how it
was that he felt no fear or disgust at the
sight, only calm detachment. Then,
when the two scientists had placed his
body, head down, in the aluminum
canister that would house him till the
time of his resurrection, Mr. Elliott felt
himself gendy drawn down, like a kite
on a string, into his flesh. His con-
sciousness waned and sputtered out.
The next time Mr. Elliott knew
anything, he was hovering near the
ceiling again, in a large, dark vault lined
with body-storage canisters. Below him,
a young man in a white lab coat was
mopping up. As he watched, a burly,
red-haired man burst in and exclaimed
hysterically, "Tom! What happened?
Did we have another power failure?"
Tom, the lab assistant, shook his head
and squeezed out his mop into a plastic
bucket. "I don't think so, Gordie. Did
you remember to pay the P.G.& E. bill
the other day, like I told you?"
Gordie groaned and slapped his fore-
head. "Oh God," he said, "that must be
it. How can I be so stupid sometimes?
What happened to the backup generat-
"I don't know. Did you set them when
you locked up last night?" "No, I
thought you did it."
"Gordie, I left early yesterday. Re-
member? You were the last one out."
"Shit, that's right. How many did we
"Just three. Including your old man
for the second time. Good thing none of
them have any relatives likely to file a
"That's good. I don't need any more
stink around here, that's tor sure."
"Gee, I'm awful sorry, Tom. What
should I do now?" Tom shrugged and
leaned his mop up against one of the
aluminum canisters. Mr. Kliiott
shivered as the mop's wooden handle
clanked against the metal of his contain-
er. "Call that woman at the dog food
factory again, I guess."
"While you're doing that, I'll flush
'em, cut 'em up, and bag 'em for you."
Gordie looked grateful. "Thanks, Tom.
You're so good to me. I don't know what
I'd do without you." He headed for the
door. Tom called him back.
"And, Gordie, tell her to pull her van
around back. Don't let her park right
out front again. It just doesn't look
by Susan Gee Rumsey
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